In the final days of 2023, a tip-off to the South African Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation resulted in a 16-hour raid on Derek Lewitton’s South African ranch. Twenty-six rhino carcasses were located during the raid and it was suggested by officers that there could be more, “From the helicopter the place looked like a slaughterhouse,” Provincial Commissioner of Police Major General Jan Scheepers told ABC News when describing the scene. “Everywhere you looked, rhinos were lying there dead”.
South African authorities must be informed about the death of a rhino, even if it dies of natural causes. Rhino horn was also found at the property without the necessary government documentation.
Lewitton’s website, Black Rock Rhino Conservation, says, that after working for several years for McKinsey and Company, Derek now owns and operates a rhino reserve. As the website explains, “the [Lewitton] family is responsible for hundreds of rhino”, continuing, “Derek is the author of several papers redefining the options for legal trade in rhino horn and has served in a voluntary capacity as the legal advisor and CITES expert for the IWMC Wildlife Conservation Trust – an NGO founded by two former Secretaries General of CITES”. Let’s hope most of the “hundreds of rhino” are still alive and well at the Lewitton ranch.
This tragedy is still unfolding, and what happened and why can only be speculation at this point. Yet it is interesting that this has occurred just months after the sale of John Hume’s rhino herd to African Parks. In April 2023, John Hume launched an auction to sell off his 2,000 rhinos, estimated to be somewhere between 13% to 15% of the world’s white rhino population. With no interested buyers, the herd was eventually sold to African Parks in September 2023. The great news is that these rhinos are now earmarked for a rewilding program, with translocation to multiple well-managed protected areas across continental Africa over the coming decade. While this won’t be an easy task, these rhinos are no longer available to the pro-trade lobby. Though it must be remembered that the Hume family and associates still have the stockpiled horn they have collected for over a decade.