Are Poaching Kingpins Hugo Ras and Dawie Groenewald Above The Law and Untouchable?

Hugo Ras, Dawie Groenewald

We are all so quick to shout “kill the poachers” but we have to stop and look at who is behind the poachers. Here are a few amongst others: Walther Slippers, Thormahlen, Marnus Steyl, Gert Saaiman, Christiaan van Wyk, George Fletcher, Frans van Deventer.

Dawie Groenewald and Hugo Ras have been in the news of late with the Ras court case coming up. Let’s have a look at their history of criminal activities.


Dawie Groenewald is the head of a rhino poaching and trafficking syndicate known in South Africa as the “Groenewald Gang” or “Musina Mafia” was arrested along with his wife, Sariette, veterinarians, Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis, as well as a group of so- called professional hunters, for his alleged involvement in the illegal rhino horn trade. Shortly after Dawie’s arrest in 2010, 20 dehorned rhinos were found in a mass grave on his property (a 10,600 acre farm in Musina, Limpopo Province). However, Dawie and his alleged accomplices are yet to face trial. Dawie Groenewald faces a reported 1,736 out of 1872 counts related to illegally selling rhino horn, racketeering, money laundering and fraud. It has been alleged that at least 384 rhino horns were sold over a period of 4 years – of which were the horns of 39 of his own rhinos that had been killed in illegal canned rhino hunting and the illegal dehorning of a further 80 rhinos. (Neither Janneman Groenewald nor Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris was included.) The Groenewald group allegedly made about $6.8 million from the illegal sale of rhino horn.

The US Authorities have also indicted Dawie Groenewald , his brother, Janneman Groenewald and Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris company (which operated and maintained bank accounts in Alabama, United States of America) on multiple charges, including conspiracy, money laundering, and wildlife crime. “The defendants are charged with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading American hunters. The hunters were told the lie that a particular rhino had to be killed because it was a “problem rhino.”

Therefore, while no trophy could be legally exported, the hunters could nonetheless shoot the rhino, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price.

Meanwhile, the defendants are alleged to have failed to obtain necessary permits required by South Africa and cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives.

The indictment alleges that the defendants then sold the rhino horn on the black market. Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court, including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun. The American hunters have not been charged.”

Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris was used to organise and promote (at between $3,500 USD and $15,000 USD a time) White rhinoceros hunting trips in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

No CITES permits (for trading in rhino horn) were obtained by the Groenewald brothers, or anyone else at Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris. The accusation is that the Groenewald brothers conned and defrauded hunters, attending Safari Club International (SCI) conventions etc., where Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris also generously donated a safari to a SCI auction of hunts.

The Groenewalds and Out of Africa also offered American hunters the chance to conduct “green” hunts, when the hunter would shoot a rhinoceros with a tranquilizer gun and then pose for photographs with the sedated animal. After photos were taken, the Groenewald’s or their staff would cut off the horns with chainsaws or knives and sell the horns in Asia. In essence, they earned profit twice: once for the sale of the hunt and again when they trafficked the horns. The U.S. authorities will be seeking to extradite the brothers from South Africa.

Interestingly enough, our nemesis John Hume has raised his ugly head in this saga. Apparently a game farmer, Dr. Walter Ward, a self- professed protector of wildlife agreed to sell nine rhinos to Dawie Groenewald, despite being aware of the criminal allegations laid against him. It has been exposed that, in spite of his pending court case, Groenewald continued to be issued permits to hunt, import, and “convey” rhinos. So, if the proper permits had been obtained, Ward and Groenewald’s exchange would have been legal.

At least two of the doctor’s rhinos had fallen victim to violent poachers only months prior to this agreement. Sources claimed that Ward had been paying Salomie Maritz to keep his nine remaining rhinos on her so- called rhino sanctuary. The deal with Groenewald seemed to have dissolved, while the very idea of it was hit by a clout of heated responses from the public. Dr Ward decided to sell his rhinos to Mauricedale Game Ranch owner, John Hume, also owner of Buffalo Dream Ranch who claimed he would not allow the animals to be hunted nor exported.

However, John Hume has come under much scrutiny from a wide range of conservationists, as he publicly advocates legalizing the rhino horn trade, and who has taken the DEA to court regarding the upliftment of the ban on trading, while also owning one of South Africa’s largest private collections of rhinos. Hume also works closely with the infamous professional hunter, Peter Thormahlen, who has been charged with rhino-related crimes, not just once, but twice. The hunter was found guilty of and fined for these charges in 2006, but escaped conviction when his second case was dismissed by the court in 2008.

Additionally, it seems Hume and Groenewald may have conducted business with each other in the past, when the two possibly exchanged rhinos in years prior to the Groenewald’s arrest in 2010. It also seems that Dawie Groenewald gave Hume his rhinos for “safekeeping” after he was arrested.
All charges were dropped against Groenewald’s wife Sariette and some charges were withdrawn against the rest following a ruling in the Constitutional Court, which lifted the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn in 2017.

A warrant was also issued for the arrest of co-accused Mandla Magagula, but this was held over until the end of January 2019.

The first possible trial date for the Groenewald Gang is only in 2021.

So, with Dawie Groenewald and his accomplices yet to face trial in South Africa, does it sound as if South Africa is actively pursuing the heads of major rhino poaching gangs?


Hugo Ras was arrested in his luxury mansion in Pretoria North on 19th September 2014 and faces 248 charges going way back to 2000. At the same time 9 other suspects were arrested in 4 different provinces including his wife Trudie, his brother Anton Ras, his brother-in-law Abraham Smit (who is also wanted in the US on 6 charges of wire fraud), his attorney Joseph Wilkinson, Bonnie Steyn (a game capture chopper pilot), Mandla Magagula (poacher), Christopher Scheepers aka Matthys, Willem van Jaarsveld and Willie Oosthuizen (A Hawks Warrant Officer).

84 rhino horns were obtained by the syndicate members and were sold to dealers in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Of these 84 horns 41 were poached and 14 were allegedly stolen from a government building.
These 10 suspects are facing charges of unlawful possession of scheduled medicine, theft, fraud, racketeering, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, money laundering, intimidation and damage to property (killing and mutilation of rhinos).

Ras has been implicated in the death of a Russian stripper who had been murdered with M99, a powerful anaesthetic used to dart rhinos and used for game capture. The charge of murder was withdrawn and he was then charged for contravening the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act. He had previously been charged with assault and the murder of a contractor working on his farm who was attacked and killed by a lion. The charges were dropped.

Ras, in an interview with Julian Rademeyer, boasted of his numerous run ins with the law and that the charges never stuck.

Judge Pierre Rabie postponed the trial of Ras, his wife Trudie, brother Anton, brother-in-law Arno Smit, former Hawks officer Willie Oosthuizen, former Pretoria attorney Joseph Wilkinson, game capture pilot Bonnie Steyn, Willie van Jaarsveld and Matthys Scheepers to the end of November 2019.

Looking at these two heads of syndicates one has to ask why they have – so far – gotten away with murder? Is the legal system skewed? Has the legal system been infiltrated by these and other syndicates? Why are there relatively stiff sentences for “mickey mouse” poachers yet the “Boere Mafia” have never been brought to book?

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Rhino syndicate ‘ringleader’ arrested

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