Rhino hunter’s sentence reduced

01 Oct 2014

Rhino hunter’s sentence reduced

Reynold Thakhuli, Spokesperson for SANParks, told Tourism Update that, although SANParks was disappointed that he now has a lesser sentence, it respects the court’s decision and hopes that he is not actually able to make the payment of a R1m fine. “One rhino killed is one rhino too many. This is a person who has been involved with the killing of our heritage,” he said.

In 2012 the accused was initially sentenced to 40 years imprisonment for fraudulently procuring permits to shoot and kill 26 rhino to engage in the unlawful trade of rhino horn. The judgement found that the people whose names appeared on the permits did not participate in the hunt and that 26 rhino were shot and killed, and most of their horns exported. “Simply put, the object was not to hunt rhino for trophy purposes but rather to engage unlawfully in trade in rhino horn,” the judgement read. After the appeal, the sentence was reduced to 30 years imprisonment.

During Lemthongthai’s trial, the High Court took into account that the permits to shoot rhinos were issued on the basis of a fraud perpetrated on the authorities and that the offences were premeditated and inspired by greed. The High Court made the assumption that the accused was part of a Thai syndicate that specialised in dealing in rhino horn and therefore took the view that his case called for a sentence that would act as a deterrent to all rhino poachers.

On September 25 it was put to the counsel that the sentence of 30 years imprisonment should not be disproportionate in relation to sentences imposed for other offences universally regarded as odious. The Judgement then sentenced Lemthongthai to 13 years imprisonment antedated to July 9, 2011, and the payment of a fine of R1m. Failure to pay the fine would result in imprisonment of 18 years.

Talking to Tourism Update after rhino poacher, Mandla Chauke, was sentenced to 77 years in prison, Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF, said heavy sentencing for illegal rhino horn traders showed the commitment and support of South Africa’s judicial system to really tackle the issue of rhino poaching.

Shaw said it was important to see more significant arrests higher up the trade chain and to see current arrests resulting in convictions with strong sentences that would effectively deter rhino poaching.