A White Rhino and her calf walk in the dusk light in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa's North West Province April 19, 2012. Elephant and rhino poaching is surging, conservationists say, an illegal piece of Asia's scramble for African resources, driven by the growing purchasing power of the region's newly affluent classes. In South Africa, nearly two rhinos a day are being killed to meet demand for the animal's horn, which is worth more than its weight in gold. Picture taken April 19, 2012. To match Feature AFRICA-POACHING/ REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

Durban - Three suspected poachers were allegedly caught red-handed with rhino horn and weapons, soon after a pregnant white rhino was killed at a world heritage site in northern KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.

Nduduzo Xulu, 29, and Sakhile Tonny Shabangu, 21, and Mozambican Philemon Dube, 33, appeared in the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

They face two charges related to poaching, and two for possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

The case was adjourned to Monday. The suspects were remanded (in custody).

Andrew Zaloumis, chief executive of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, said yesterday that anti-poaching operations were being carried out on the western shores of the park on Friday evening when five heavy-calibre gunshots were heard.

“An operation, which included aerial support, was mounted in the early hours of Saturday morning and three suspects were arrested at Mfekayi in possession of a .458 calibre rifle, nine rounds of .458 ammunition, an axe, two fresh rhino horns, a stolen computer and money,” Zaloumis said.

It is believed the men made a statement relating to the poaching of the white rhino on the western shores and pointed out the location to park staff and the police.

A crime scene investigation was conducted and five spent .458 cartridges and one bullet head were recovered. “The cold-blooded murder of a pregnant white rhino is a most cruel and calculated frontal assault on South Africa’s first World Heritage site and is being met head on,” said Zaloumis.

Good intelligence from a conservation-minded community, staff tenacity and the pooling of resources between law enforcement agencies, iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife were paying off, Zaloumis said.

It was the second big rhino bust in just more than a month. On May 26, five suspected rhino poachers were arrested in a joint operation between local police, the Hawks and the SAPS organised crime unit from Richards Bay, aided by iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo staff.

The suspects, all South Africans, are between the ages of 20 and 64 years and are from areas bordering on iSimangaliso. They face charges including rhino poaching and the possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. Two .308 hunting rifles were seized as well as 29 x 308 rounds; and 64 R1 rounds.

“These two big busts send out a strong message to would-be poachers. Our challenge is that new gangs replace the old,” Zaloumis said.

A R100 000 reward is being offered for information that leads to a conviction for poaching rhino.

Anybody with information should contact the confidential 24-hour number 082 797 7944.

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