Alleged rhino poachers killed in desperate bid for horns
Publish date: 11 July 2017
Issue Number: 515
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
As the value of rhino horn rockets, would-be poachers are increasingly prepared to use violence to achieve their aims, writes Legalbrief. Last week two poachers – believed to be part of a much larger syndicate – were killed by field rangers in a conservation area in KZN shortly after the arrest of another three. According to a report in The Mercury, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said over the weekend that the incident in which poachers were killed took place at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s Nqolothi section in the early hours of Sunday morning. Rangers saw five poachers, with one carrying a .303 hunting rifle, Mntambo said. On being instructed to drop their weapons, ‘one poacher pointed a gun towards the field rangers but the quick-thinking rangers fired first and two poachers were fatally wounded. The rifle was recovered’. The other three poachers escaped and were still at large, he said. Mntambo said the three other suspected poachers – believed to be part of the same syndicate as the men who were killed – were arrested on Saturday in a joint operation with the police and Ezemvelo. All three suspects, said Mogale, appeared in the Hluhluwe Magistrate’s Court yesterday on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition. Worldwide Fund for Nature chief executive Dr Morne du Plessis said that the incident was indicative of the increasing desperation of poachers to get at the rhinos. ‘As the value of rhino horn increases, so too does their desperation. I think poachers are becoming more and more willing to resort to violence and even kill those who get in their way.’
And, horn poachers killed another six rhino last week in a single night in KZN's flagship Hluhluwe-iMfolozi reserve. According to a News24 report, it is understood that 11 gunshots were heard around midnight on Sunday, two weekends ago. At first light on Monday, Ezemvelo KZN wildlife rangers and anti-poaching units went to where the gunshots had been heard and found six dead rhino. All their horns had been hacked off and removed by the poaching gangs. Mntambo confirmed that the six animals had been killed in the Mbhuzane area, in the Imfolozi section of the park. Over the past three years, poachers have increasingly turned their attention to the KZN rhino reserves after stricter security measures were introduced in the Kruger National Park. The latest series of killings in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi has raised the rhino body count in KZN to 139 so far this year, suggesting that the final death toll in KZN could exceed 260 by the end of the year. No national statistics have been released so far this year by the Department of Environmental Affairs – though the national annual rhino death toll has exceeded 1 000 animals for the last four years (around three rhino each day countrywide).
Three Zimbabwean nationals arrested in Grahamstown last year, allegedly in possession of a freshly harvested rhino horn, now face more than a dozen charges involving the poaching of some 22 rhino across the Eastern Cape. According to a Daily Dispatch report, in what could be one of SA’s biggest rhino poaching trials to date, Jabulani Ndlovu, Forget Ndlovu and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu were last week served with a substantial indictment summing up 13 alleged rhino poaching incidents involving 22 rhino over three years. Most incidents were crammed into just four months of last year. The indictment valued the rhino horn harvested in the poaching incidents at more than R11m. Each of the Ndlovu men – who are not related – face five charges or alternative charges for each of the 13 incidents, including theft, hunting or killing endangered rhino without a permit, unlawful possession of the tranquilliser opioid agents M99 (also known as Etorfine) and Thiafentanil, and illegal possession of ammunition. The High Court indictment alleges the three men acted in concert as a team of hunters and smugglers to kill the rhino and steal their horns to sell on the black market. Senior state advocate Buks Coetzee said the matter had been transferred to the Eastern Cape High Court (Grahamstown) and the trial would start on 30 November. The three men are currently out on bail and, accompanied by their attorney Alwyn Griebenow, were served with the indictment at the Grahamstown Regional Court.
Rhinos Without Borders has stepped up its efforts to move as many rhinos as it can from ‘the incredible poaching that continues in SA to the wilderness of Botswana’. According to a News24 report, in an updated e-mail post Rhino without Borders, run by iconic conservation duo and National Geographic Explorers in Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert, the organisation says it has set a target of 100 rhinos. ‘We have just moved our third batch taking us to 38. We have funding for the next batch as well and as we negotiate another large relocation of rhinos, it will take us well over the half-way mark and looking down the home stretch,’ it said. Dereck Joubert emphasised, ‘conservation today is a collaboration’. ‘The great news is that from the 38, we have already had 7 calves born in Botswana, (new rhino-citizens) and I have a suspicion that at least 4 more are pregnant,’ he added.