Defence Force nabs more poachers

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The South African National Defence Force has arrested four more poachers. The military says two were arrested in the Kruger National Park (KNP) on the north-eastern border with Mozambique while the other two were detained in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

The SANDF in a statement says the first two alleged poachers were apprehended in the Ndololwanini area of the park at 10am on Friday. “One of the alleged suspected poachers armed with an AK47 allegedly pointed the soldiers on foot patrol with the rifle, was shot and wounded on the right foot,” the statement added. The suspects were handed to the South African Police Service at Skukuza area. They had in their possession an AK47, with a magazine and twenty three rounds, CZ550 hunting rifle, nine rounds, axe, knife and three rhino horns.

SANParks, the parks authority, in a separate statement said the arrests, which it called a joint operation involving itself, the police and the military, said the arrests followed shortly after after two white rhino were shot and killed and their horns removed in the Nwanedsi area of the KNP.

In a separate incident early on Sunday, troops and police conducted “a planned operation” in and around Belfast Trust in KZN. While thus engaged, two suspect poachers were arrested. “It is alleged that these suspects have been involved in poaching activities in- an around the KNP area during the month of May.”

The SANDF deployed a company (about 165 troops) into the KNP in April after an absence of several years. Some 333 rhinos were killed in South African parks 2010, 122 in 2009 and 83 in 2008, versus only ten being killed in South Africa’s parks in 2007. Some 173 have already been gunned down this year, of which 120 were poached in the KNP.

The surge in the number of rhinos killed follows an increase in the demand for rhino horn in Vietnamese and Chinese traditional medicine, despite the fact that the horn contains no medicinal properties as it consists of keratin, the same material human finger nails and hair is made up of. Researchers say that some people in Vietnam believe that rhino horn can cure cancer. As Asia’s rhino population has been pushed to the brink of extinction by hunting and deforestation, consumers have been looking to South Africa to meet their demands.

According to the WWF, South Africa has more than 80% of Africa’s total rhino population. Former Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, last year said South Africa had around 19 000 white and 1750 black rhinos.

In military says in cases where rhino-poaching manifests as a cross-border crime activity, the SANDF will act against it within the framework of its present mandate in terms of Section 18(1)(d) of the Defence Act of 2002. “The SANDF contributes and plays a very critical role in the curbing of rhino-poaching as part of their support to SAN Parks along the Kruger National Park which borders the neighbouring countries. The Constitution stipulates that the SANDF shall protect the territorial integrity and safeguarding the sovereignty of the republic. In this regard, the SANDF is in the Kruger National Park to ensure that this mandate is carried out.”

Since returning to the KNP, soldiers have scored several successes against poachers. Late last month soldiers shot and wounded three poachers in the Houtbosrand area north of the Olifants River. All three later died. “The poachers fired on the SANDF soldiers who returned fire,” spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Marinda Meyer said at the time. “An AK47 rifle, one Bruno .458 hunting rifle, two axes and two cell phones were found in their possession.”

In April SA Army soldiers deployed in the KNP arrested four Mozambican nationals, also for suspected poaching. They were in possession of a hunting rifle, cell phones, binoculars and axe.

The SANDF is currently deployed along stretches of the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho borders. At the end of the financial year 2012/13 the SANDF hopes to patrol the entire 4471 kilometres frontier between South Africa and Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Lesotho.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has warned poachers that the military will return fire in the KNP and other areas along the border. “The SANDF will do anything to protect our national asserts, we will not allow criminals to do as they wish in our parks, we also want to send a very strong message that poachers who shoot at soldiers must know that we will return fire with fire”, the minister said.

SANParks added the incident came shortly after the successful prosecution of two rhino poachers, Frans Makamu and Solomon Mabuza. They had been arrested in separate incidents in 2010 for rhino poaching activities in the KNP. They were found guilty for illegal hunting of rhino, possession of illegal firearms and ammunitions on Wednesday last week. Both accused offered a plea of guilty in the Nelspruit Regional Court. Frans Makamu, who was also found guilty of the possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, was sentenced to 11 years while Solomon Mabuza was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

So far this year some 122 suspected poachers have been arrested around the country, of which 60 were detained in the KNP. Twenty suspected poachers have been killed and 10 injured in clashes with authorities. Of this figure, 15 suspected poachers have died and nine wounded during contacts with rangers and soldiers in the KNP alone.



David Mabunda, the SANParks CE said: “As SANParks, we welcome the additional support of the SANDF and SAPS in addressing the current upsurge in rhino poaching in the KNP. The successful joint operation carried out on Friday as well as the recent sentences given to the two convicted rhino poachers will send a clear message to everyone that poaching of wildlife is not tolerated in this country.
“We wish to thank all the men and women of the SANParks, the SANDF, and the SAPS for their joint efforts in fighting the poaching crime in the country and particularly in the KNP. Although it may be a little too early to celebrate we are definitely beginning to see a downward trend in terms of the number of rhino poaching incidents in the KNP. Details of trends cannot be released at the moment due to the infancy of the observation.”
“This, along with the upswing in arrests, both in the KNP and the country as a whole, will have a positive impact on the current high incident rate of rhino poaching activities in the country,” said Mabunda.