By Eleanor Momberg

Two poachers, nabbed in KwaZulu-Natal's Hluhluwe/Imfolozi game reserve, have been jailed by a Free State court for eight and two-and-a-half years for poaching rhino and illegally trading in rhino horns.

The sentencing of Gideon van Deventer and his brother, Nicolaas, was confirmed by Superintendent Sam Makhele, Free State police spokesperson.

The brothers entered into a plea agreement with the state in which Gideon van Deventer admitted he had hunted rhino and sold the horns to a syndicate at R12 000 a kilogram; and that he continued to do so after his initial arrest in May 2006.

The brothers, from Bronkhorstspruit, were arrested in August 2006 after they hunted two white rhino in the KwaZulu-Natal reserve.

They then appeared in a Bronkhorstspruit court for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, having false number plates, and for supplying false identification details when registering as guests in the reserve.

The men had been arrested as they left the park. Police and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife officials were involved in a joint tracking operation from the brother's homes in Bronkhorstspruit to the park, where they kept the pair under surveillance.

At the gate, they found four rhino horns, as well as three illegal firearms and ammunition, knives and gloves used to remove the horns from the poached rhino, two-way radios and various documents.

At that time, Gideon van Deventer was out on bail of R10 000 after he and a Kroonstad man, Pieter Swart, were arrested in May 2006 for illegal purchase of rhino horn.

During the operation, police found 12 rhino carcasses without horns in different provinces in a four-month period.

In one case, these had included the carcasses of a rhino cow and her calf. Among the hornless carcasses found, four were in the Kruger National Park, four on a game farm in Bela-Bela, Limpopo Province, and two in Komatipoort in Mpumalanga.

Gideon van Deventer confessed to nine charges of illegally hunting protected animals. He received 10 years, of which two years were suspended.

Nicolaas van Deventer, who admitted to three counts of poaching, was sentenced to five years, of which half was suspended.