Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has uncovered evidence of high-level political connections to rhino poaching in Africa.
The investigation raises serious questions about the involvement of a South African government minister and members of a Chinese presidential delegation in the illegal rhino horn trade.
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Of the just 25,000 remaining African rhino, the biggest population is in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where at least two rhino are killed for their horns by poachers every night.
The selling of products from endangered species is banned worldwide, but high demand in China and Vietnam – where the horn is considered a sign of status and wealth – has kept the trade alive.
In Pretoria, South Africa, Al Jazeera secretly filmed a conversation with the manager of a Chinese restaurant who owns a collection of rhino horn bracelets and ivory chopsticks.
The restaurant manager told Al Jazeera that when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited South Africa last December a delegation accompanying him asked to be taken shopping for illegal souvenirs to smuggle home.
“They loved those ivory accessories,” he said. “Also rhino horn, but they didn’t buy much. They bought ivory mostly.”
The illegal spending spree was confirmed by a second source.
The Chinese government has pledged greater action on wildlife crime and did not respond to requests for an interview regarding our investigation.
In South Africa, one rhino horn trafficker bragged to Al Jazeera about his close connections to Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, who runs the country’s intelligence services.
“He came to my massage parlour every week or at least twice a month,” said the trafficker. “I know him very well.”
Mahlobo has denied any relationship with the businessman.