Lengthy prison sentences for two convicted rhino poachers indicate Mozambique is serious about zero-tolerance for wildlife crimes, Southern African conservation NGO the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) maintains.
“Rapid response, co-ordinated effort and irrefutable evidence provided by the Limpopo National Park anti-poaching unit, working in collaboration with counterparts in the Kruger National Park, led to the arrest and conviction of the two poachers in Mozambique,” the Stellenbosch-headquartered NGO said in a statement.
“On 29 August 2018, Kruger rangers informed the joint Kruger-Limpopo security group a gunshot was reported. On investigation the following day they found two poached rhino with horns removed just inside Limpopo National Park.
“Limpopo NP responded to Kruger alerts and deployed a patrol unit of National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) rangers. Tracking started, but fading daylight saw the search on the ground paused while investigations continued.
“Benefitting from a strong community information network in place over years, a phone tip indicated the rhino poachers arrived at a village in a neighbouring district. A patrol moved in and apprehended the suspects, in possession of two pairs of horns, as well as a .375 rifle and ammunition. Following standard processing at the Limpopo NP headquarters they were handed to Mapai district police and prosecutor.
“With the perpetrators arrested, teams on the ground needed to ensure all necessary evidence was collected for a strong case in court. Crime scene analysis site by the joint Kruger-Limpopo investigation team found bullets in the carcasses. The Limpopo NP crime investigation unit provided the prosecutor with hard evidence of: DNA evidence from rhino carcasses; photos of poacher spoor and crime scene; evidence of radio records for vehicle and handheld radios during the arrest; and evidence of vehicle movement between critical locations during pursuit.
“The trial process started in June this year in Gaza Provincial Court. The defendants used experienced advocates and entered not guilty pleas claiming their detention was unjustified. The professional investigative, forensic and procedural evidence gathered and presented by the park’s anti-poaching unit showed otherwise.
“After three sessions, Tomas Maluleque (33) and Orlando Matuassa (26) were found guilty in Xai Xai Provincial court on 30 August of poaching two rhino and unlawful possession of four horns, firearms and ammunition. They received sentences of 19 and 17 years respectively. Added to this they both received a fine equivalent to $96 (5958.4 Mozambique Meticais) and were ordered to pay restitution to Limpopo NP amounting to $20 000 (1 276 800 Mozambique Meticais).”
Over a five year period, PPF has supported Kruger through its rhino protection programme. This saw, among others, more than 300 rangers trained through the Southern African Wildlife College; equipment and infrastructure provided and technology-based solutions deployed including the Postcode Meerkat wide area surveillance system. This support was made possible with support from the Dutch, Swedish and UK People’s Postcode Lotteries as well as private donors.