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Czech rhino poaching syndicate bust

The group reportedly collected and moved horns under the guise of a trophy hunting operation.

White rhino. Picture: Big Game Parks.

JOHANNESBURG - The Endangered Wildlife Trust on Thursday welcomed the arrest of 16 people in the Czech Republic linked to a rhino poaching syndicate operating between South Africa and Vietnam.

It is reported the group collected and moved the horns under the guise of a trophy hunting operation.

Authorities say the shipping of the horns appears to have been approved by South African export officials, raising suspicions of corruption.

Conservationist Karen Trendler says major arrests of this kind are steadily exposing South Africans who are aiding international poaching syndicates.

The Czech syndicate is reportedly linked to controversial South African game farmer Dawie Groenwald.

The Limpopo farmer faces charges of money laundering, fraud and trading in illegal rhino horn.

He's also wanted by US authorities who are trying to extradite him along with his brother.

Groenewald has denied any knowledge of the syndicate.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) previously warned trophy hunting "was a loophole that poachers used to obtain rhino horn."

There are also misconceptions that trophy hunting was somehow useful and a viable form of sustainable conservation, it warned.

Latest statistics from the Environmental Affairs Department shows more than 1,000 rhino have been killed in 2014.

Figures for this year now stand at 1,020, exceeding the numbers for 2013.

While the Kruger Park has been the hardest hit, another 110 animals have been killed by poachers in Limpopo, 84 in KwaZulu-Natal, 70 in Mpumalanga, 58 in the North West and 15 in the Eastern Cape.

Rhino Force's Chris Thorpe says these numbers are appalling.