An elite unit set up to tackle rhino poaching has secured the arrests of several suspected poachers in the last four weeks. File picture: Fred Kockott/Independent Media

Durban - Police are continuing their fight against rhino poaching with the Rhino 8 team having secured the arrests of several suspected poachers in the areas of Acornhoek, Skukhuza, Phalaborwa, Hluhluwe, Barberton and KwaMsane in the last month. 

The Rhino 8 team comprises of various government departments including members from various disciplines of the South African Police Service, Customs and Excise, the South African National Defence Force and Ezemvelo and SANParks Game Rangers.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo, national police spokesperson, said two of the 50 suspected poachers are aged 24 and 33 years.

“They were arrested as recently as this past weekend after they were found in possession of .375 hunting rifle in KwaMsane. Police also seized a Toyota Hilux bakkie in which they were traveling. This team has been doing sterling work since its inception, arresting dozens of suspected rhino poachers and recovering arms, ammunition and vehicles among other incriminating items,” Naidoo said.

During these arrests the team also confiscated several other vehicles including a  Toyota Quantum, VW Golf Polo, a BMW 3 series, and 17 firearms including rifles and pistols, a variety of ammunition, silencers, axes, knives and cellphones.  

“Most of the suspects have since appeared in various courts on charges relating to unlawful possession of firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, possession of dangerous weapon/s, trespassing, kidnapping and assault,” Naidoo said.

In the meantime at least six suspects that were arrested earlier this year have been convicted and sentenced to 39 years altogether. One of these accused, Maphoyisa Mahlaule was sentenced to an effective 20 years imprisonment for Hunting a Protected Animal, Possession of Unlicensed Firearm, Unlawful Possession of Ammunition, Possession of Firearm intend to commit a crime and Trespassing.

“We are hopeful that the conviction and sentencing of these suspects will serve as a warning and deterrent to other potential poachers that their chances of success in poaching have been reduced drastically. With the growing help from the communities, the days of poachers are numbered. Poachers are warned that over and above facing criminal prosecution, we are coming after your ill-gotten gains in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act,” Naidoo said.

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