A white rhino having a drink of water at sunset. The white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros is the largest extant species of rhinoceros. It has a wide mouth used for grazing and is the most social of all rhino species. The white rhino is the second largest land mammal and is relatively unaggressive which is why poaching for its horn is the main threat.It's an epidemic, and according to the World Wildlife Fund more than 1,050 rhinos were killed in 2016 in South Africa alone. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - While the portfolio committee on police has welcomed the arrests of rhino poaching suspects, they said they were disappointed that two out of the seven were police officers, while another is a former policeman.

In a statement issued today, committee chairperson, Francois Beukman, said the police should continue to deal with criminal elements within its ranks.

The arrests were carried out in Mpumalanga this week, by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).

Hawks spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, said during the swoop members found and confiscated luxury vehicles and motorbikes, trucks, an undisclosed amount of money, animal skins, properties, lots of suspected stolen items which include amongst others; trailers, generators and various electronic equipment.

“The seized items are estimated to exceed millions of rand in value. The suspects aged between 30 and 56, include two alleged syndicate leaders, one right hand man, two police officers and a former cop. They have appeared in the White River Magistrate’s Court on charges of theft, conspiracy to commit a crime, illegal buying and selling of rhino horns, corruption and money laundering. The rhino horns would allegedly get sold at the highest price to the markets within Gauteng, where after it gets distributed to the South East Asian markets,”he said.

The significant breakthrough follows an investigative - Project Broadbill - by the Wildlife Trafficking Section of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation which commenced in January last year.

The project focused on the criminal supply chain of poached rhinos within the Kruger National Park, Kwazulu Natal, Gauteng and other private or state owned reserves. The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms.

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