Two KwaZulu-Natal men were arrested in a roadblock between Vryheid and Utrecht with still-bloody rhino horns – less than 24 hours after rangers discovered the corpses of two white rhino in Ezemvelo National Park.
One of the two, 44-year-old Muntungowakhe Khoza, of Ulundi, is facing rhino poaching charges stemming from a 2009 case and was out on bail.
He was apprehended early on Friday in the company of 26-year-old Thulani Mbatha.
Investigators are hoping to link the arrest of Khoza and Mbatha to the slaughter of the two rhino via DNA evidence.
Reacting to the incident, South African conservationist and retired lawyer Chris Mercer slammed delays in the administration of justice, calling the courts “dysfunctional and an unholy recipe for disaster” in dealing with poaching that had escalated to crisis levels.
“In terms of rhino poaching and wildlife crimes, the justice system in South Africa needs to be brought under a microscope,” said Mercer.
“Here you have a man who was caught red-handed three-and-a-half years ago, released on a ridiculously low bail amount against the advice of criminal investigators, only to be rearrested for the same heinous crimes before his first case has even been concluded.
“It’s a travesty of justice that these cases have been crawling along through the court system for this long at the taxpayers’ expense, while the same perpetrators are out on bail committing the same crimes. KwaZulu-Natal alone has lost over 150 rhino while he (Khoza) has been out on bail.”
According to police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane, Kingsley police stopped a Toyota Tazz and searched the vehicle.
“When the suspects were asked about the recovered horns, they told the police that they had bought them from the Vryheid area,” he said.
Allegedly the horns were still wet and bloody, with fresh bone-marrow from the poached animal still attached to their base. The value of the seized horns on the black market is believed to be more than R500 000.
Khoza and Mbatha appeared in Utrecht Magistrate’s Court on Friday. They were charged under the National Environmental Biodiversity Act for being in possession of rhino horns, dealing in rhino horns and transporting rhino horns without a permit.
The case was remanded to March 25 for further investigation.
Khoza, 44, is expected to appear next month with three co-accused in the KwaMbonambi court for the resumption of the 2009 rhino poaching case.
In August 2009 Khoza, Ayanda Buthelezi, Mduduzi Xulu and Sifiso Ngema were apprehended by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife ranger Lawrence Munro, with the support of police.
They were caught with blood dripping from their clothing and in possession of two freshly hacked off white rhino horns, just outside Mfolozi game reserve.
hino conservationist Ian Player expressed disbelief when he heard Khoza had been rearrested on new charges.
“It is iniquitous that someone who is out on bail has been caught again poaching. It is of vital importance that the courts recognise the seriousness of rhino poaching,” he said. - The Sunday Tribune