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Nelspruit - Two suspected poachers from Mozambique pleaded guilty in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Friday to entering South Africa illegally, but denied poaching rhino.
Andelino Mukwebe and Jeremano Tive face charges of entering the country illegally, entering the Kruger National Park (KNP) without a valid permit and of killing a white rhino, a Sapa correspondent reported.
KNP rangers arrested them in possession of two fresh white rhino horns and an axe in the N'wanesi section of the park on January 19.
“I was on my way to the place of gold in Johannesburg to look for a job,” Mukwebe said in an affidavit.
“We know it is against the country's law to enter without a legal permit. I plead not guilty to entering the KNP illegally, killing a white rhino and dehorning a second white rhino,” he said.
Tive presented a similar statement before magistrate Edward Hall.
An SA National Parks field ranger, who could not be named to protect his identity, testified that the rangers received a call around 9am on January 19.
“We were told that shots were heard and there were suspected poachers around the Mjokwane section of the KNP.
“On arrival at Mjokwane, we discovered that two suspects had already been arrested. We were then instructed about a second scene at N'wanesi section of the park.”
There the rangers followed the fresh spoor of three people and a wounded rhino.
“We noticed its fresh blood on the ground.”
Soon after, the rangers found a white rhino that had been shot, with blood flowing from its shoulder. It appeared someone had tried to cut off one of its horns.
“There were no people around, but we noticed some human tracks around it,” the ranger testified.
The rangers followed the three sets of human tracks, and 600 metres further found an abandoned bag.
“We proceeded further and found the two accused... hiding under some bushes, covered in shrubs. We found two bags from them. Inside the bags were discovered two fresh white rhino horns, an axe and a jacket.
“We discovered that a third suspect was at large. We heard from the two that he was the one carrying a firearm,” the ranger told the court.
He testified that the area was thoroughly searched, but the third man could not be found.
A helicopter helping with the search was called and the two men were taken into custody.
Defence lawyer Daniel Mabunda told the court that Mukwebe and Tive would testify that their bags held only food.
“It is my instruction that the two rhino horns the witness claims were found inside Tive's bag were brought by the rangers who came with the helicopter,” Mabunda said.
Hall postponed the case to November 28.