By Associated Press
DENVER: U.S. prosecutors have indicted the owner of a South African hunting company, accusing him of bribing Zimbabwean officials while guiding a Colorado tourist and working to have the ivory tusks of an elephant that the group illegally killed inside a national park imported to the United States.
Prosecutors in Colorado said Hanno van Rensburg took a hunting party to the area around Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe to hunt elephants in 2015. The Colorado client shot one elephant that did not die. The group then tracked the animal into the national park but could not find it, according to prosecutors.
An indictment unsealed last week said van Rensburg and the hunter bribed local government officials with at least $5,000 to let the party shoot other elephants inside the park. Zimbabwean law does not allow hunters tracking a wounded animal inside the park to hunt other wildlife.
Someone in the group shot and killed a different elephant. Prosecutors say van Rensburg conspired with the client from Colorado to export ivory from the animal, falsely claiming that the hunter was a resident of South Africa and that the elephant was not shot inside a national park.
While trying to sell another safari trip, he later told an undercover agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife about the Gonarezhou National Park trip and advise him to bring $9,000 to assure “extras” were covered, indicating that bribery was all a part of how Zimbabwe works.
“If they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt,” Van Rensburg said, according to the indictment. “If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straightforward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.”
In 2015, U.S. law banned importing the body parts of African elephants killed for sport in Zimbabwe. However, the Trump administration announced two months ago that requests to import elephant trophies would be approved on a “case-by-case basis.”
Van Rensburg, 44, also is charged with violating a broader U.S. law that makes it illegal to transport or sell wildlife killed in violation of any foreign law.
Officials said van Rensburg has not been arrested. An arrest warrant filed with the court orders “any authorized law enforcement officer” to take him into custody. The charges include wire fraud, conspiracy and violating the Endangered Species Act.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners work together to support global efforts to protect threatened and endangered wildlife from illegal poaching,” U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer said. “(Fish and Wildlife Services) and our prosecutors did an extraordinary job investigating this case.”
Van Rensburg did not respond Monday to an email sent to an address listed on his company’s website.
Prosecutors did not name the hunter from Colorado who paid van Rensburg more than $39,000 to guide him on a hunt for elephants. A spokesman for Troyer’s office declined to identify the hunter.
Prosecutors announced in April, though, that Paul Ross Jackson of Evergreen had reached a plea agreement after being charged for violating the Endangered Species Act for shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe.
The months, locations and initials of the hunting company owner — H.V.R. — in Jackson’s plea agreement mirror those in the indictment against van Rensburg.
Jackson was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and agreed to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service with all documents on any hunts outside the United States. He also was ordered to transfer the elephant’s tusks back to the Zimbabwean government.