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South African police seize $7 million in assets from suspected rhino poachers

Dawie Groenewald and veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis have been charged in what police described as one of South Africa's biggest wildlife cases.

South africa rhino poaching kruger parkEnlarge
A white rhino at the Kruger National Park in South Africa. A record number of rhinos are being killed in South Africa for their horns, which are then sent to Vietnam and China. Kruger park has hired an extra 150 rangers to combat rhino poaching in 2011. (Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost)

JOHANNESBURG — Police in South Africa have confiscated nearly $7 million in assets from three suspected rhino poachers, two of whom are veterinarians. 

The assets were seized from Dawie Groenewald, owner of a safari business, and veterinary surgeons Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis. The men were in 2010 charged with 1,872 counts of racketeering in what police described as one of South Africa's biggest wildlife crime cases.

South Africa, which is home to most of the world's 21,000 rhinos, is facing a massive poaching crisis.

The country has seen a dramatic rise in poaching since 2008, with 448 of the endangered animals killed last year. The brutal killing of rhinos is fueled by the soaring demand for their horns in China and particularly Vietnam.

GlobalPost Special Report: Last Rhino Standing: Will we see Africa's rhinos become extinct in our lifetime?

Colonel Vishnu Naidoo, a police spokesman, said the assets were believed to have been acquired through crime, particularly rhino poaching.

If the three suspects are convicted, the proceeds will be used "to continue with the combating of crime," Naidoo said in a statement.

"Generally, those that commit such crimes will serve their sentences but still come back to a life of luxury by by seizing assets, criminals have no worldly possessions to enjoy and this certainly helps send out a clear message that crime does not pay," he said.

The number of rhinos poached in South Africa this year now stands at 210, according to newly released figures from the Department of Environmental Affairs. 

A "disturbing total" of 127 rhinos have been killed in the famed Kruger National Park, the DEA said.

Naidoo said 99 people have been arrested since January for rhino-related matters.

More from GlobalPost: Rhino horn 'more expensive than cocaine,' due to Vietnam demand

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/south-africa/120509/dawie-groenewald-rhino-poaching-assets-seized