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Private game reserves that contracted to buy 260 rhinos from the Kruger National Park have been refunded R14 million, following an exposé of the sales by Oxpeckers.

South African National Parks cancelled the contracts following the controversy over the sales, first revealed by Oxpeckers on August 13.

A petition against the sales raised more than 11 800 signatures. The main point of contention was that the rhinos were sold to hunting outfits in the Northern Cape, and not all of the outfits had passed scrutiny by SANParks scientists.

A hunted rhino displayed on one of the buyers’ websites.
A hunted rhino displayed on one of the buyers’ websites.

Chair of the SANParks board, Gert Dry, said this week the contracts had been cancelled and the outfits had been refunded R14-million in deposits.

One of the outfits, called Kalahari Oryx, is co-owned by retail magnate Christo Wiese. Wiese is the chairperson and majority shareholder of Pepkor, and is ranked as South Africa’s fourth-richest man. Wiese’s partner at Kalahari Oryx, professional hunter Jacques Hartzenberg, paid a deposit of R8 million for 100 rhinos.

R14-million has been refunded to billionaire Christo Wiese. © David Harrison/M&G
R14-million has been refunded to billionaire Christo Wiese. © David Harrison/M&G

A second outfit was Wintershoek Safaris, contracted to buy 140 rhinos. Wiaan van der Linde, owner of Wintershoek, had his R6 million deposit refunded.

The third outfit, Steyn Safaris, intended to buy 20 rhinos. It is not clear whether the outfit, owned by Alexander Steyn, paid a deposit.

Controversy surrounding the sales to the three hunting outfits led to the suspension of the SANParks head of conservation, Hector Magome, in early June. Magome is challenging the suspension and has taken it to arbitration.

SANParks head of conservation, Hector Magome
SANParks head of conservation, Hector Magome

Dry said this week the contracts were null and void, because Magome had signed them without the approval of the board. Magome disputes this. He told Oxpeckers the sales had been approved by the board at meetings in October 2013 and February this year.

At the meeting on February 12, Dry declared an interest in the sales as one of the buyers “is well known to him in the industry”. Conservation services at SANParks wanted to move the rhinos in an attempt to provide an alternative breeding population of rhinos in a safer environment than the besieged Kruger.

Dry said this week sales of rhinos may still occur at a later date. “Two of the buyers are reputable people and we might do business with them in the future as the process unfolds in a valid way and in a sound, transparent way,” he told Bloomberg News.

In other news Oxpeckers reports that four Kruger rangers were arrested in possession of rhino horns after a colleague tipped off authorities. The four have been linked to a private concession in the park, Shishangeni Lodge. The rangers removed the horns of a rhino that had died of natural causes and smuggled it out of the park on Wednesday. A colleague who overheard them talking about selling the horns alerted the authorities. Police arrested three of the suspects in Komatipoort, near the Mozambican border, and retrieved the horns.

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