Special Investigation: Inside the Deadly Rhino Horn Trade

Here's how a pair of South Africans could undermine the international efforts to protect the vulnerable animals.

It was a five-hour drive from South Africa’s Kruger National Park, home of the world’s largest wild rhinoceros population, to Polokwane, home of the world’s most wanted man when it comes to rhino horn trafficking: a millionaire safari operator and ex-policeman named Dawie Groenewald.

To meet Groenewald, photographer Brent Stirton and I sped in two cars through gorgeous, winding mountain ranges. But then night fell, and in the darkness outside the city someone had poured tar down the center line of the highway and set it ablaze. It appeared to be another protest rooted in the racial and economic tensions that continue to flare in South Africa more than two decades after the end of apartheid. We wove around the fire only to come upon a traffic jam and a makeshift roadblock a mile later. In the middle of the road what looked like a sofa was on fire, the flames shooting 10 feet into the air. Large rocks blocked all four lanes. Brent got out of his car and moved rocks too big to drive over, while I watched for an ambush. We picked our way through the gantlet as unseen people hurled stones from beyond the shoulder.

We stayed the night at a dank roadside hotel, then waited, in accordance with Groenewald’s instructions, at a gas station for his man, Leon van der Merwe, to meet us. We followed him for 20 minutes along an expanse of immaculately fenced property until we reached two stone pillars with a gate that slid open electronically. Standing in the driveway, hands on his hips, was Dawie Groenewald.

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