South African court gives Thai rhino poacher record sentence
Chumlong Lemtongthai took advantage of the fact it is legal for foreigners to hunt rhinos in South Africa and ship horns overseas as personal trophies.
He paid Thai prostitutes about $800 dollars each to go to game farms, take a few shots with small-calibre rifles and then pose next to rhinos killed by someone else, according to affidavits presented to the court and seen by Reuters,.
Judge Prince Manyathi said Chumlong fraudulently obtained hunting permits to kill 26 rhinos and then shipped most of the horns to Asia for "selfish financial gain".
"The shooting was not for trophy hunting. It was for horn trading," Manyathi said, adding rhinos were a symbol of the country and continent.
"We cannot allow anybody to take our pride away."
South Africa is home to almost all of Africa's rhinos and has been in an escalating arms race with poachers who smuggle horns to China, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere. Its value there as a medicine is about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold.
Chumlong, 44 and dressed in a brown jacket and jeans, stood motionless as the judge handed down the sentence. He did not make any statement. His lawyers said they planned an appeal.
Chumlong pleaded guilty on Wednesday to more than 50 counts of illegal exports and violating environmental protection laws.
POACHING GROWING FAST
The environment ministry said the sentence was the longest ever handed out for rhino poaching. It was also harsher than the minimum term for murder.
Between October 2010 and May 2011, more than two dozen rhinos were killed on licensed "hunts" arranged by Chumlong. The horns were mounted as trophies to be sent abroad, according to copies of international air waybills and export certificates obtained by Reuters.
They were sent to Vixay Keosavang, the owner of a wildlife trading firm called Xaysavang Trading Export-Import in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, according to court documents obtained by Reuters.
In 2011, Chumlong signed a deal with the South African owner of a hunting reserve requesting horns from an additional 50 rhinos, with a street value of about $20 million, according to documents obtained by Reuters.
Increased demand meant poaching has hit record levels in South Africa where, by mid-October, 455 rhinos had been killed illegally. There were 448 in 2011.
Poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in east and southeast Asia began spending more on rhino horn. It is believed by many to prevent and cure cancer.
According to some studies, rhino poaching has reached a level that is causing species decline.
"South African citizens are serious about this. This is the heritage of the people of South Africa. It is the heritage of the people of Africa. It is the heritage of people of the world," said Fundisile Mketeni, deputy director general of the environment ministry.
Top stories this week
- Five SA Navy vessels in Durban for Armed Forces Day, but no frigate
- SANDF personnel killed in Naval Base Durban accident
- Just on a billion Rand needed to make 1 Mil fully operational again
- Zuma lays wreath, presents medals during wet Armed Forces Day
- Contraband, dagga and illegals all grabbed in Op Corona net
Invitation to Saab's annual Gripen seminar
by Saab, 22 February 2017
The media, financial analysts and investors have been asked to attend the seminar in Stockholm, Sweden, on 15 March.
Saab launches CoastControl, next level of Coastal Security, at IDEX 2017
by Saab, 21 February 2017
CoastControl combines surveillance and communications products with a workflow management tool to help coastal security personnel stay ahead of any situation.
Saab to deliver CBRN equipment to INTERPOL
by Saab, 21 February 2017
The CBRN sampling equipment and a certified transport packaging container will be delivered to INTERPOL's BioTerrorism Prevention Unit.