Pretoria - A rhino poacher’s hope of getting a more lenient sentence than the 11 years meted out to him has been shattered on appeal.
The judge found that he was “no fallen angel”, and instead upped his sentence to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Mfana Kubai was earlier sentenced in the lower court in Limpopo following his conviction with another poacher, Obed Chauke.
Both of them tried in vain to appeal both their conviction and sentence. The court only granted them leave to appeal to the Thohoyandou High Court with regards to their sentences.
But Judge George Phatudi, prior to hearing the appeal against the sentence, wanted to know from the pair why he should not increase the sentence.
While both poachers saw the 11 years meted out to them as “shockingly harsh”, the judge was of the opinion that it was “shockingly lenient”.
Confronted with the judge’s question, Chauke decided not to take his chances on appeal, but withdrew his application.
Kubai, on the other hand, decided to forge ahead in a bid to receive a lesser sentence.
The poachers were arrested at Chataronga game farm in Limpopo after the carcass of a recently killed rhino was found with its horn missing.
They were found in possession of a rifle and two horns, which were in a black refuse bag.
Isak Prinsloo, the manager at Chataronga game farm, told the court about the challenges the game farm faced relating to rhino poaching.
He testified that the farm lost 11 rhinos between 2010 and 2014, due to illegal hunting by poachers. Of the 11, only three cases were successfully prosecuted. In 2014, the farm had 51 rhinos that were kept, and conserved, as a project. It costs R200 000 monthly to deploy security staff with vehicles.
Rife poaching at the farm left the owner with no option but to sell all 30 remaining rhino at half their market value.
An environmental management inspector at SANParks also explained the rhino-poaching challenges they encountered.
Counsel for Kubai said that as he was a first offender and father of four, he should have received a far more lenient sentence than the one meted out to him. He argued that the 11 years “induces a sense of shock”.
In rebuttal, counsel for the State argued that Kubai had experience in poaching, especially rhino horns, in that he was once involved in 11 cases of rhino poaching. He was not prosecuted as he pointed the Chinese buyer out to the police.
While in this latest case Kubai insisted he was innocent, he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar as the two rhino horns in a black refuse bag were found next to him, the judge said.
The social worker who did a background check on Kubai told the court he was a person who lived a lavish lifestyle and drove luxury cars. Members of his community wondered where he got the money to sustain such a lifestyle.
In dealing with Kubai’s argument that he was a first offender, the judge commented that a first offender is either a “fallen angel”, or, “an incorrigible rogue”.
Judge Phatudi pointed out that this may be the first time in which Kubai was charged for poaching, but he was no stranger to this trade as he was earlier also involved when he was arrested for being in possession of 11 rhino horns. He did not face charges then, as he blew the whistle on the Chinese buyer.
“The appellant, in my respective view, is knowledgeable on how to poach wild animals. It is further my view that he felt he found his niche in rhino poaching.
“He went to Chataronga with the full intent to hunt … He carried the rifle all the way from his home at Phalaborwa – over 200km to Chataronga/Hunter’s Rock game farms in the far north-western side of South Africa, almost by the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe,” the judge said.
He added that Kubai committed an offence that infringed the rights of all citizens of South Africa, to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.