KwaZulu-Natal - In just four days, between Sunday and Wednesday, three more rhinos fell victim to poachers at Hluhluwe and Imfolozi, bringing the year’s provincial tally to 32, and to 319 nationally.
“One animal lost is one animal too many. (This) is a disappointment and has saddened us all here at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife,” said Jabulani Ngubane, the head of rhino poaching investigations for Ezemvelo.
He said a rhino carcass had been discovered on Sunday in the Makhamisa section of Hluhluwe and another had been found after the area had been swept during an aerial surveillance exercise.
“We don’t have any details of what time they were discovered or what the exact circumstances were. All that information will be compiled into a report,” said Ngubane.
Ezemvelo spokesman Musa Mntambo said the third rhino had been discovered in Imfolozi in Nqumeni. Both horns had been removed. Ezemvelo and the Saps are investigating.
“Poachers are usually linked to syndicates, so we are not ruling that out,” said Mntambo.
This comes in the wake of Wednesday’s court drama in which two would-be rhino poachers, who were bust in a police sting as they were cutting the fence of a private game reserve, were sent to prison.
In terms of plea bargain agreements in the Vryheid Regional Court, Ewart Potgieter, 34, and Riaan Vermaak, 32, both once farm managers in the Louwsberg and Newcastle areas, will spend six years and four years behind bars respectively. They were arrested earlier this year after a two-month undercover operation by the Durban organised crime unit and the national intervention unit, led by Warrant Officer JP van Zyl-Roux.
He confirmed that syndicates could not be ruled out, because they were usually involved in poaching.
In another undercover operation, in June, a KZN man allegedly facilitating the sale of rhino horns to a multibillion-rand international syndicate was arrested, along with six foreigners, during two sting operations. Police seized 12 horns valued at more than R40 million, as well as elephant tusks and leopard skins, in two operations in Gauteng, both linked to a 40-year-old Zululand man.
He was arrested with three Chinese nationals and a Malawian man, at a home in Florence Road, Bedfordview.
The men appeared in court in June and were denied bail.
In April, a rhino poaching suspect was shot dead in a gunfight with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s anti-poaching unit at Ndumo Game Reserve, on KwaZulu-Natal’s northern border with Mozambique.
Ezemvelo came under fire from conservation groups when it sought to make the trade of rhino horns legal, saying that if rhino poaching continued at its current rate, 1 300 animals would be lost by the end of the year.