Two farmers and a game ranger, believed to be behind a rhino poaching syndicate, were arrested at 3am on Sunday after a sting operation by the Durban and Richards Bay organised crime units and national intervention unit.

The farmers, from Louwsberg and Newcastle, and the ranger were nabbed minutes after they cut a fence on the boundary of Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve, about 40km from Pongola, sources said.

Police, on the pretext of wanting to buy rhino horns, met the farmers earlier in the week and set up the time when the rhinos would be poached. It has been alleged that seven rhinos were being targeted.

After arresting the suspects, police searched their homes and seized five rifles, a 9mm pistol, python skins and various cycad and dagga plants.

The suspects were detained at the Magudu police station and were expected to appear in court tomorrow.

The sources said further operations were under way in various parts of northern KZN by the Durban and Richards Bay organised crime units, the national intervention unit, the SAPS air wing and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, to clamp down on rhino poachers.

South African sniffer dogs were being used to combat rhino poaching and the smuggling of elephant tusks in the west African country of Benin, according to a report.

The dogs recently uncovered a drug smuggling operation there, the SABC reported on Saturday.

The dogs, trained by Mechem, a subsidiary of state arms entity Denel, were deployed at ports and airfields to counter the growing trade of drugs and illicit substances.

Dr Hannes Slabbert, a veterinary ethnologist at the Mechem training facility in Pretoria, said the dogs were more effective than X-ray systems and very efficient.

“We supply dogs to private game reserves and we are working towards supplying quite a few dogs to other entities as well, so that we are not only looking at drugs and explosives but also the rhino poaching and the elephant tusk problem,” he said.

Denel group CEO Talib Sadik has placed the company’s technology, human and canine resources at the disposal of anti-poaching initiatives.

“We have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world and at least three of our business entities can help stop rhino poaching – Mechem for their sniffer dogs, Carl Zeiss Optronics, for its powerful ‘eye-in-the-sky’ technology and Denel Dynamics for their unmanned aerial vehicles,” Sadik said.