Major rhino horn trader sentenced to 40 years behind bars

A Thai national, Chumlong Lemtongthai, has been sentenced to 40 years imprisonment for his involvement in the illegal trade of rhino horns from South Africa. This is the harshest sentence given for a wildlife crime in the country to-date. Lemongthai pleaded guilty to charges relating to the illegal export of rhino horns in Johannesburg’s Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court earlier this week.  WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA) applauds the efforts of the South African Revenue Services and other law enforcement agencies for the successful arrest, prosecution and sentencing of the highest-ranking rhino syndicate member to be brought to book in South Africa. 

“It is so important that all those involved in rhino crimes receive sentences which match the severity of their actions to form an effective deterrent to others”, says Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Co-ordinator for WWF-SA. “These higher-level arrests and convictions are critical to disrupting the illegal trade chains used to move rhino horns into illicit markets in Asia”. 

Lemtongthai played a principal role in a syndicate which used white rhino trophy hunts in South Africa to obtain horns to trade in the Asian black markets, a practice known as “pseudo-hunting”. During court proceedings, Lemtongthai confessed that the hunters were a front for exporting rhino horn for commercial trade and not for trophies.  His syndicate enlisted people from Asia to pose as hunters and participate in white rhino trophy hunts on game farms in the North West province.  In response, the South African government updated legislation to clamp down on such loopholes, including a ban on rhino hunting by Vietnamese Nationals since April 2012.

In a statement to the court, Lemtongthai said, "I humbly apologise to the court and to the people of South Africa for my role in this matter.  I appreciate that the emotions of all animal lovers in South Africa are running very high and that I was part of the problem.”

However, it is of concern that all charges against Lemtongthai’s co-accused (three South African and two other Asian nationals) were withdrawn without explanation.  Sadly, this does not send a similarly strong message regarding South Africa’s attitude to the ongoing involvement of its own citizens in rhino crimes. 

This case and recent rhino poaching incidents in the North West Province highlight the ways in which criminal elements are abusing the permit system in their quest for rhino horn.  There remains an urgent need for the South African government to implement a national electronic permit system to centralise and better monitor this information. WWF also calls for greater collaboration between South Africa and Asia in monitoring rhino horn trophy exports to prevent them being drawn into illegal trade. 

Editor’s Notes:

About rhino poaching in South Africa.

The latest information released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on 6thNovember stated that South Africa has lost a total of 528 rhinos to poachers since the beginning of 2012.

About the WWF-SA Rhino Programme

The new rhino programme at WWF-SA galvanises its conservation efforts around a five-point approach aimed at impacting strategic parts of the illegal rhino horn trade chain. Under this framework, WWF-SA works to improve understanding in trade dynamics in importing countries and finding ways to influence demand; increase bilateral co-operation between South Africa and importing countries such as Viet Nam; enhance the judicial and forensic processes, through capacity development as well as expert and hardware support; build community buffers around key rhino populations; grow resilient rhino populations by improving management of existing populations as well establishing new founder populations in secure locations.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA)

WWF-South Africa is a national office that is part of the WWF network. We are a local NGO that for more than 40 years has worked towards the aim of inspiring all South Africans to live in harmony with nature, for the benefit of our country and the well-being of all our people.

WWF stands for the World Wide Fund for Nature

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Quathar Jacobs


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