JOHANNESBURG – JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police said Wednesday that they have arrested 11 suspected members of a major rhino poaching ring which they said had been linked to many rhino poaching incidents.
Police spokesman Vish Naidoo said the suspects include two veterinarians and a game farmer. He says the 10 were arrested earlier this week and one was arrested Wednesday after he appeared in court to support the accused.
Game farmer Dawie Groenewald was released on 1 million bail ($140,000), which is believed to be the heaviest in the crime's history. The remaining 10 were released on bail ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 rand ($700 to $14,000).
Prosecution spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said they face charges including assault, defeating the ends of justice, fraud, corruption, malicious injury to property and illegal possession of weapons and ammunition.
He said the case was postponed until April for further investigation.
Naidoo said 204 rhinos were killed this year alone in South Africa.
"Farmers must take precautions and game security have to be on the lookout," he said.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, rhino poaching has increased dramatically in the last two years due to high demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is sometimes used for medicinal purposes.
South Africa, which hosts more than 90 percent of the world's rhino population, has been losing some 20 rhinos per month. Africa has lost 600 rhinos through poaching in the last four years.
"The poaching trend is extremely worrying," said Dr Joseph Okori, head of WWF's Africa Rhino Program. "If it is not stopped, the rhino conservation wins of the last decade will be in jeopardy."
Wednesday's arrest coincides with World Rhino Day. Conservationists have declared a campaign to raise funds to stop the illegal trade of rhino horns.
Both the African rhino and its endangered cousin, the black rhino, are targets of the illegal trade.
Peaceful marches in opposition to rhino poaching were held through South Africa Wednesday. Even professional hunters supported the cause, with the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa donating 400,000 rand ($56,000) toward anti-poaching efforts.