A South African man is facing federal charges for his role in allegedly helping a Colorado hunter illegally kill endangered elephants in Zimbabwe and offering similar services to an undercover federal agent, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Denver.
Professional hunter Hanno van Rensburg, 44, of South Africa is facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, which prohibit the hunting and trade of threatened animals, including the African elephant, according to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. A warrant has been issued for van Rensburg’s arrest.
Federal prosecutors allege that in 2015, van Rensburg was paid $39,195 to help a Colorado hunter shoot an elephant outside of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park. Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter -- who is not named in the indictment -- tracked the wounded animal inside the park, the indictment states.
Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter, according to the indictment, “agreed to pay and paid a bribe to the game scouts of between $5,000 and $8,000 so that they could shoot elephants other than the one that was first shot and wounded and kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, in violation of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wild Life Act.”
The indictment alleges that to export the elephant’s ivory, Van Rensburg conspired to tell Zimbabwean authorities that his client, the hunter from Colorado, was actually from South Africa.
“To conceal this contrivance, van Rensburg quizzed Colorado hunter on the layout of his house so that Colorado hunter could convincingly answer such questions and successfully represent himself as a South African resident,” according to the indictment.
Federal authorities also allege van Rensburg attempted to sell a similar illegal elephant hunting trip to an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the indictment, in 2017 van Rensburg told the agent to bring around $9,000 dollars on the trip for “extras,” as in bribes.
Hunters are required to buy “tags” if they want to hunt an elephant in Zimbabwe, and van Rensburg allegedly reassured the agent that a limited number of tags was not a problem.
“But you know about Zimbabwe, how it works,” van Rensburg allegedly told the agent, according to the indictment. “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 straightforward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.”
Van Rensburg did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but one of his former clients is coming to his defense.
Charlie Loan, a hunter who is unrelated to the current case, said the indictment comes as a surprise. Loan said he was part of a small group that hired Van Rensburg and his guides for a 10-day South African hunting safari in 2012.
“One of the things that we were all really impressed by was the fact that they put a lot of emphasis on conservation,” Loan told ABC News. “Conservation was key in his mind, and that went through his entire staff.”