Local ranchers rout rhino horn rustlers

South Africa professional hunter Elmarie Minnaar and her Jack Russell terrier named “Sookie” scout for game from the back of her Land Rover pickup. (Photo used by permission from William "Butch" Krutzfeldt)

 

In early June, Montana ranchers John and William “Butch” Krutzfeldt of Miles City were in South Africa’s bush country. John was hunting and Butch was cameraman. They were lost all the time, but fortunately they had the services of a great professional hunter named Elmarie Minnaar of Limpopo, South Africa. Elmarie operates Hunters-Rock Safaris. She operates in a man-dominated profession, but she can hold her own with the male hunters. She is locally known as the woman who jumped on a leopard that was mauling her man, Danie, also a professional hunter.

While driving upwind and searching for game, the group came upon three men lying under a tree. Butch thought they were having a picnic, but Elmarie shouted “poachers,” grabbed a shotgun and shot over their heads. The men, carrying a loaded gun and poached rhino horn, did not stop and disappeared into the thick bush.

Elmarie immediately telephoned her farm employees and called neighbors to come help apprehend the “stripers,” which is the South African word for poachers. She positioned John and Butch at a lookout point and did likewise with her other men. Another professional hunter was instructed to not take a chance if they came into view and to shoot first because she knew they were armed and dangerous. 

A man employed by Elmarie who goes by “Bushman” was directed to track the poachers, and he quickly determined that the three poachers had gone over a 12-foot-high game fence into the neighbor’s property. Bushman also noted that one of the poachers had doubled back across the fence. He chose to track the two men who made the deepest prints. He knew they were carrying the rhino horn and gun. Bushman can track an animal or man as fast as most people can walk.

About this time, neighbors arrived in a helicopter, and another tracker and gunman were sent with Bushman to assist.

The two trackers with the gunman tracked the poachers for about two miles from where the group had initially jumped the poachers and spotted them hiding in the dark shadows of a tree. Bushman radioed Elmarie and she and her group immediately proceeded to where the gunman held the poachers. 

When they arrived, the poachers were lying face down in the dirt, and their hands were being tied behind their backs. The Africaan farmers determined that the two men were named “Iggy” and “Obert.” The third poacher, who had not yet been caught, was named “Carlos.” The poachers said another man was driving a getaway car. 

In the distance, the group could see two other helicopters that were assisting in the search. One pilot was a game farmer flying in from 100 miles away, and a police helicopter had flown in from Polokwani, a city of 4 million located about 125 miles away.

By the next day, the driver and Carlos had been captured.

That same day, the neighbor farmer discovered a dead mother rhino that had been nursing a baby and also was pregnant. The poachers had cut the two horns off the 2,000-pound animal. 

The poachers had a 375-caliber gun with a silencer and about nine pounds of rhino horn with a $50,000 value.

A South Africa game farmer explained that 600 rhinos had been poached and killed for their horns already in 2014. It has been reported that 20,000 elephants were poached in 2013 for their tusks. This represents a serious and deadly threat to the future of rhinos and elephants in Africa. 

The farmers preserve and protect many animals in a production system that harvests mature animals as trophies, and the meat is used by the local people. The game farmers help with producing the great diversity of game in Africa, and without the farmers’ efforts, tusked animal extinction is a definite risk. 

The rhino horns are allegedly sold into the southeast Asia market for aphrodisiac purposes. Men believe the horn helps their sex drive. 

The four poachers are now going through the South Africa criminal process.