Johannesburg - North West Premier Thandi Modise has welcomed the arrest of three suspects - including a park ranger - in connection with the slaughter of eight rhinos at a game farm in the province.
The Hawks swooped on the suspects, aged between 47 and 59, at their homes at Lethabong village near Brits on Tuesday.
“We can confirm that we are linking them with the poaching of eight rhinos at Klipkopspruit Farm near Rustenburg over the weekend,” police spokesman Paul Ramaloka said on Wednesday.
Modise said the swift arrests were encouraging and proved that, with the support of communities, the war against the scourge of rhino poaching was winnable.
“That a game ranger was among those arrested is disappointing and shameful, and calls for police to widen their net and not to leave any stone unturned,” she said.
On Monday, conservation activists Mark Boucher and Dr Ian Player called on the government to tighten its anti-poaching laws and impose severe penalties.
Retired cricketer Boucher said investigations into rhino poaching needed to be extended to game farmers who may be complicit in the scourge.
“Something seems not right when seven rhinos get killed on one farm. I have spoken to vets and they said it’s difficult [for poachers] to kill seven rhinos and get away with it.
“There are people involved in conservation who may be getting away with murder,” said Boucher, who recently launched the SAB-Boucher Conservation Non-Profit Company to raise funds to save the rhinos.
“There could be some game farmers involved and getting off scot-free. I refer to [incidents like] match-fixing in cricket. Not only poachers involved in the killing and selling of rhinos, but people in game farming involved in the crime must also be brought to book.”
Modise commended members of the public who had provided the police with information that led to the arrests.
“The cruelty and brutality against the rhino as symbol of our ecology and rich heritage has gone too far, and all involved in this evil trade should feel the full wrath of the law,” she said.
Modise had on Monday said she was considering deploying the army to combat rhino poaching in the province.
No horns were found in the men’s residences, but police said they were linking the suspects to the poaching of eight rhinos at Klipkopspruit farm at the weekend.
Seven rhinos, including a five-month-old calf, were found dead and dehorned at the Finfoot Lake Reserve inside the Klipkopspruit Farm on Saturday. The eighth rhino was found dead on Monday.
However, its horns were still intact, according to the farmer and owner Miles Lappeman. He said the discovery was made after a calf was found “wandering next to its dead mother” at about 6am.
“They have totally annihilated the most viable population that could have had 50 to 60 rhinos in 20 years,” a distraught Lappeman told The Star on Monday.
The latest killings come less than a month after 11 rhinos were dehorned on the Hartzhoogte Game Farm, also in North West.
The men were expected to appear in the Brits Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on charges of rhino poaching.