File picture: Armand Hough

Johannesburg – An important step in the fight against rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park. That's how the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) have described the establishment of a new regional magistrate's court in Skukuza.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, the organisations said the court "would help to ensure the expedition of a larger number of prosecutions".

The court has been operational since March 7 – though it was officially opened last month – and sits once a week.

“A large number of rhino poaching incidents and rhino-related offences occur in the Kruger," said the organisations, in a statement.

"We welcome the move to establish a new court in Skukuza – not only because it places a court in close proximity, but also because a regional court has the jurisdiction to hear more serious matters originating from a larger geographical area than an ordinary magistrate’s court.

"We're optimistic that the establishment of this court will increase capacity, and hopefully speed up the criminal prosecution of all rhino related offences, including the poaching of other wildlife specimens."

The effect of faster and "hopefully more efficient and, therefore, more successful prosecutions" and the imposition of heavy sentences should serve as a powerful deterrent to poachers, said the organisations.

Last month, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said the regional court would help ensure that case turnaround times were expedited.

The Star