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Rhino horn is reportedly worth more than gold or platinum on the international black market, which is no doubt why trafficking is on the rise. One horn can fetch $250 000 (R3,5m; £200 000). Who is making money here? Not only the poachers, according to an international investigation by Al Jazeera, which finds that those who kill the rhino only receive a fraction of the money. Powerful, influential people close to the presidents of South Africa and China are alleged to be operating in the murky rhino horn trade, the station’s journalists reveal. The horn is ground into traditional medicines or carved into jewellery, like bracelets, or statues for display as status symbols. Buyers ideally like flesh to remain affixed to horns so that they know they are buying the genuine item. Poachers conceal their wares in biltong to disguise the stench from sniffer dogs at airports. Al Jazeera’s investigation indicates that highly sophisticated operations have been set up to ensure horns can move freely across borders. Government officials and even diplomats have been fingered in a scandal that highlights rampant corruption in South Africa, China and Vietnam. A suspected rhino horn dealer from Asia has even allegedly bought a private game farm in South Africa where it is believed that tigers – not indigenous to South Africa – as well as rhinos are being bred and slaughtered for the Asian market. Police are probing the possible involvement of South Africa’s Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, in the rhino horn trade. Mahlobo has strenuously denied wrongdoing, suggesting his association with a rhino horn trader is coincidental. However, Mahlobo’s name pops up repeatedly in this investigation – including in connection with the termination of an investigation into rhino horn poaching. With law enforcement agencies in the country believed to be serving political masters, it seems unlikely Mahlobo will face prosecution any time soon. A rhino horn trafficker tells Al Jazeera that it is very common for South African officials to have their wives “out front” while they work behind the scenes and keep their hands clean. This is a ruthless industry, too. There are allegations of killings, with a smuggler noting that it is death for traders exposed for selling fake horns. With state players protecting and supporting the smugglers, it is not surprising there has been a sharp rise in rhino deaths as the animal is pushed perilously close to extinction. This chilling documentary highlights that the poachers are winning in the battle to protect South Africa’s dwindling wildilfe populations as a corrupt government sinks its tentacles ever deeper into money-making opportunities wherever they may be. – Jackie Cameron
From Al Jazeera
South African police have launched an investigation into alleged links between the country’s security minister and a Chinese rhino horn smuggler, according to the government.
The probe announced on Thursday was prompted by claims made by Guan Jiang Guang, a self-professed rhino horn trader, in an undercover Al Jazeera documentary, that he was close to State Security Minister David Mahlobo.
“Cabinet noted the allegations in an Al Jazeera documentary against Minister of State Security, Mr David Mahlobo,” Jeff Radebe, a senior adviser to President Jacob Zuma, told journalists.
“The South African Police Services are investigating the allegations.”
A bloody gift in the shape of a souvenir: Rhino horn
Guang said that he was friends with Mahlobo and had hosted him regularly at his massage parlour in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga province and at his home.
In secretly filmed footage, Guang showed off mobile phone pictures of himself and the minister, and said the minister’s wife was involved in the trade.
I don't think it's a coincidence that, out of all the spas in Mpumalanga or wherever Mahlobo lives, he chose one of a rhino horn poacher.
— Justice4All (@Unathi_Kwaza) November 14, 2016
Pictures have also emerged of Mahlobo with parlour employees.
Mohlobo has denied any relationship with the businessman.
Selling rhino horn is illegal worldwide, but the animals face the threat of extinction due to a surge of poaching driven by demand for their horn in China and Vietnam.
The Al Jazeera investigation revealed that smugglers used packets of long strips of dried meat, known locally as biltong, to conceal shipment of ivory.
South Africa’s elite police unit, the Hawks, confirmed investigations were under way into the alleged links between Mahlobo and Guang.
“What we need to do is to get a statement from him [Mahlobo],” special police unit spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi told AFP news agency on Thursday.
“The allegations have been made … they are talking about him, they are talking about his wife.”
Mahlobo this week denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
“I am not a friend of the guy, nor have I been ever to his home,” he said in a statement. “My wife has no business relationship with the man or his employees.”
Mahlobo added that he had visited Guang’s massage spa for treatment but had “no idea” that Guang was involved in illegal rhino trade.
If you dread Mondays – it could always be worse. You could be #DavidMahlobo explaining away those rhino horns and massage parlour visits…
— Prof. Bokdrol (@ProfBokdrol) November 13, 2016
In 2008, fewer than 100 rhino were poached in South Africa, but in recent years numbers have rocketed – with nearly 1,200 killed last year alone.
South Africa is home to about 20,000 rhinos, roughly 80 percent of the worldwide population.
Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails.
It is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases – as well as an aphrodisiac – in Vietnam and China. – AlJazeera