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Johannesburg - Five suspected rhino poachers were arrested early on Monday morning near the Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Tshwane as they were about to enter the reserve.
The suspects attempted to escape, but the authorities shot the tyres of their two vehicles. They tried to flee on foot, but the K9 unit was called in.
Paul Ramaloko, the Hawks spokesman, said the men, aged between 22 and 52, were caught following a tip-off. Police recovered two hunting rifles, one 9mm handgun and several rounds of ammunition. He said an axe had been found and it was believed that the alleged poachers would have used it to chop the rhino horns off.
Kobus Engelbrecht, the chairman of the friends of Rietvlei, said although the horns of the reserve’s rhinos had been cut off in August, the preventive measure would not necessarily stop poachers. “They will even go for the bit of horn that is left in the flesh.”
He said much was being done to ensure the rhinos’ safety at the reserve, and this had been the first poaching incident since 2010.
The rhinos at the Rietvlei reserve were first dehorned in March 2010 just a few days after poachers killed two rhinos.
Horns need to be cut at three-year intervals as they grow an estimated 4cm to 7cm in a year.
On September 21, the Department of Environmental Affairs released the latest rhino-poaching statistics. Four rhinos have been poached in Gauteng since the beginning of the year, and three poachers have been arrested.
The suspects were due to appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday on charges of possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.