Police are working hard to stamp out rhino poaching Picture: REUTERS, BAZ RATNER

Durban - A specialised unit, set up to fight poaching have made great strides in their bid to stamp out rhino poaching. Over the last six months, a total of 365 rhino poachers have been convicted and an additional 15 men aged between 33 and 50, have been arrested.

National police spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the 15 were nabbed following sting operations in Mpumalanga.

He said police recovered four unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

Naidoo said between January and June 2018, the Rhino 9 Task Team secured various convictions, the maximum nine years’ imprisonment and the least being three months’ imprisonment with the option of paying a R1 500 fine.

“Of the 365 suspects who were arrested, 165 remain in custody while facing court processes, six were deported to their native countries, 11 received fines and 57 are serving their various jail terms. These convictions are evidence of the commitment of law enforcement agencies and game reserve parks to preserve endangered species for future generations,” Naidoo said.

Meanwhile, the 15 nabbed last week have since appeared in court on charges of unlawful possession of firearm/s, unlawful possession of ammunition, possession of dangerous weapon/s, trespassing, hunting of protected animal, kidnapping, assault, possession of the remains of a wild animal, possession of suspected stolen property and being in the country illegally or without proper documentation.

“Axes, tog bags, cellphones, and other incriminating evidence were also seized during the arrests. The Rhino 9 Task Team is a multidisciplinary team operating in Mpumalanga comprising of various government departments including members from various disciplines in the South African Police Service, Customs and Excise, the South African National Defence Force, as well as Ezemvelo and SANParks game rangers,” Naidoo said.

He added that a the strategies that the unit has put in place is significantly reducing the chances of smugglers operating at ports of entry in national parks.

“These arrests should serve as a warning and deterrent to other potential poachers,” Naidoo said.

He said community support and assistance is welcomed in the fight against this scourge. “Poachers and smugglers are warned that over and above facing criminal prosecution, their ill-gotten gains will also be confiscated in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121/1998 (POCA). We urge the people of South Africa to continue supporting the police in its efforts to bring down the scourge of crime because together we can do more. Anyone with information related to rhino poaching may contact the nearest police station or SAPS Crime Stop number: 08600 10111,” Naidoo said.

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