South African Professional Hunter Charged with Federal Crimes for Illegal Elephant Hunts
Defendant Took Colorado-Based Hunter on Illegal Hunt in Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park
DENVER – Hanno Van Rensburg, age 44, of South Africa, was charged with federal crimes related to illegal elephant hunts in an indictment unsealed in United States District Court for the District of Colorado, announced U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement (FWS-OLE) Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholtzer.
As alleged in the indictment, the defendant sought opportunities to hunt large elephants that frequent the area around Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. He hired a Zimbabwe-based outfitter so that he could lead a hunt inside the park. Once on the hunt, the defendant shot several elephants, and an elephant was killed inside the national park. The defendant then paid somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000 in bribes to Zimbabwean government officials in return for authorization to shoot the elephants, to kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, and to have the elephant’s ivory released. The defendant also helped a client in an effort to export the elephant out of Zimbabwe, by agreeing to falsely represent that the elephant was killed outside the national park and by agreeing to manufacture and submit a document falsely stating that this client was a resident of South Africa.
In addition, the defendant allegedly attempted to sell an illegal elephant hunt to an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent. Among other things, the defendant attempted to sell the undercover agent a hunt in the same location outside Gonarezhou National Park and advertised his willingness to pay bribes to obtain tags to hunt inside Gonarezhou National Park. As alleged in the indictment, the defendant told the undercover agent that “if they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt. If they need to get it, they will get it. If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straight forward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.” In the process of offering the undercover agent a hunting trip, the defendant proposed that the undercover agent bring approximately $9,000 in “extras” that “we can use in camp to make things straight if we need to.” The defendant also advertised his hunting services by describing in detail his previous illegal hunt in Gonarezhou National Park.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. “FWS and our prosecutors did an extraordinary job investigating this case.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to protecting imperiled species around the globe from poaching and trafficking,” said Steve Oberholzer, the Special Agent in Charge of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “These cooperative law enforcement efforts strengthen and protect America’s borders while ensuring the conservation of cherished wildlife species."
The case was investigated by FWS-OLE.
The defendant is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Bryan D. Fields and Suneeta Hazra.
The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.