Thai Sex Workers Enlisted For Rhino-Hunting Scam
Photo: Alien Ted / cc
Threats against African rhinos have nearly always been despicable, but as authorities crack down on illegal exportation of the animals' horns, the latest methods to usurp the law are downright abhorrent. A former rhino horn dealer turned whistle-blower claims that an international wildlife trafficking syndicate employed strippers and prostitutes from Thailand to go to South Africa, participate in fake 'hunts', just to return with the rhino horns horns.According to John Oliviers, a whistle blower who was involved in the trade of rhino horns, the trafficking syndicate recruited sex workers to apply for legal trophy hunting permits in South Africa in order to circumvent a law which allows for hunters to kill one rhino a year. Instead, the Thai women would merely return to Asia with illegally obtained horns, presumably to be sold for massive profit on the black market.
In recent decades, South Africa has pushed to reduce illegal poaching, although still hundreds of animals have been killed for their horns this year alone. Strangely, the government still permits trophy hunters to shoot the animals for sport with a firm limit. Recruiting sex workers, however, provided the syndicate with cheaply acquired individuals to pose as hunters, solely to import the highly-prized horns.
From the Mail and Guardian:
A statement made to the police by John Olivier, who worked with the syndicate, led to the arrest of Lemtongthai and five Thai "hunters" in Edenvale on July 9. He described how Lemtongthai and his sidekick, Punpitak Chunchom, paid millions of rands in cash for live rhinos.
Olivier claims in his statement to the police that Marnus Steyl, a wildlife trader based in Brits, North West, bought the rhinos from auctions and private owners.
Steyl is then alleged to have moved the rhinos to a farm in North West and soon after that they would be "hunted", in contravention of regulations that the animals must be given time to acclimatise.
Despite the fact that rhinos are endangered in South Africa, permits are still being issued for trophy hunters to kill them for sport -- and this gaping loophole in the poaching law has allowed for wildlife dealers to reap a hefty profit. To purchase a live rhino evidently cost Lemtongthai a fraction of what is paid for their horns on the black market.
To add to the ruse that the 'hunters' were in fact there to hunt and not merely to poach (though the differences is debatable), the syndicate would have the animal sent to a taxidermist to give the appearance that the rhino was legitimately killed for game. The reality, however, was even more twisted.
"The trophy is just a cover for getting the horn out of South Africa and into Asia. Once in Asia, it obviously would enter the black market as rhino horn for 'medicinal purposes'. The person allegedly 'hunting' the rhino would never see the animal or its horn again," says Oliviers.
For more details on this sordid story, check out the Mail and Guardian's reportage.
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