Men ‘had permits’ for huge rhino horn haul
The two men caught with 167 rhino horns at the weekend had permits for the haul and were only 10km out of the designated area where they were allowed to transport the products.
This is according to attorney Alwyn Griebenow, who is representing Clive John Melville, 57, of Port Elizabeth, and Petrus Stephanus Steyn, 61, of Modderfontein.
The haul has been lauded as the biggest bust recorded and was believed to be destined for Asia.
The two have been remanded until April 26 when they will apply for bail.
They were arrested on Saturday in the Hartbeespoort Dam area, north of Pretoria, following a tip-off that there was a car transporting rhino horns.
Police said the rhino horns worth a “substantial amount of money” were destined for the Southeast Asian markets.
Demand for rhino horn is primarily fuelled by consumers in China and Vietnam as a wonder medication. A horn can fetch up to R840,000 per kilogram in Asia.
Griebenow described his clients as “poor, innocent guys”.
“They were arrested for rhino horns that came from poaching but they had permits for all of them. They were just 10km outside the radius they were allowed to travel in. It was just a mistake.”
Melville ran Algoa Bay Drums and Cans and C U Diving Charters in Port Elizabeth – with the former business having been sold about a month ago.
Griebenow said Melville spent half the year in Port Elizabeth and the rest in Pretoria.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi could not be reached for comment.
The planned sale of horns by private rhino owners is for domestic trade only, according to a Constitutional Court judgment in April 2017. The domestic trade in rhino horn is subject to the issuance of the relevant permits in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act of 2004.
In 2018, 769 rhinos were poached in SA alone. More than 7,100 animals have been killed over the past decade.
The country is home to the world’s largest privately-run rhino farms. Breeders harvest the horns by tranquillising the animals and cutting them off – a technique they say is humane and wards off poachers.
Photographs circulated in the media after the weekend seizure show horns with markings indicating weight and others that appear to be registration numbers.
“These suggest that the horns came from a stockpile of some kind, possibly a private stockpile,” Julian Rademeyer, a project leader at TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade network, said.
The way the horns had been cut looked as though it had been done professionally with an electric saw, he said.
“This could point to the possibility that some of the horns came from rhinos that had been de-horned and not necessarily from poached animals,” Rademeyer added.
An insider with close ties to Melville and intimate knowledge of the origins of the horn, said on Wednesday the pair, who were close friends, had simply “made a silly mistake”.
“They had all the permits and the horn was legitimately harvested from a rhino owner who has the largest number of privately-owned rhino in South Africa.”
He said there had been no poaching involved in the saga, and the horn had come from a very large stockpile and was not being exported.