The South African National Parks (SANParks) has welcomed the conviction and imprisonment of three rhino poachers by the Nelspruit Regional Court on Monday. The three, Renaldo Franchesco Masiki, Joao Sendelani Malangute and Elvis Mdaka were found guilty of illegally hunting rhinos and imprisoned for five years without the option of a fine.
The three Mozambique citizens were arrested in October 2010 at the Crocodile Bridge Section of the Kruger National Park. Masiki and Mdaka were further found guilty on charges of possession of illegal fire arms and ammunition and were sentenced to an effective nine years of imprisonment without an option of a fine.
SANParks spokesman Wanda Mkutshulwa told the state BuaNews agency the organisation is very pleased with the sentencing “and hopes for even tougher sentences to be meted against such criminals.”
She said the last time a harsh sentence was handed down was when a Vietnamese man was sentenced to ten years in prison after been caught trying to smuggle 18kg of rhino horns from the OR Tambo International Airport in July last year. South Africa has lost 71 rhinos so far this year with 46 in the Kruger National Park, nine in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and Western Cape each losing one rhino and KwaZulu-Natal lost six. To date 64 suspected rhino poachers have been arrested, BuaNews added.
Mpumalanga MEC for Economic Development, Environment and Tourism Norman Mokoena this week called for harsher action against rhino poachers. “I call upon law enforcement agencies to deal very harshly with anyone caught poaching any of our rhinos, or any other endangered species,” he said. “This includes rhino and other endangered species. We have an obligation towards future generations to protect these species at all costs,” he said according to the state BuaNews agency.
It has been widely reported that crime syndicates are behind the rhino killings, fuelled by demand for horns in Vietnam and China, where horns are ground up and used in traditional medicine – often as aphrodisiacs. According to South African National Parks (SANParks), in 2010 alone, 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa. In 2009, 122 rhinos were killed in the country, compared to only 13 that were poached in 2007, BuaNews said.
Some media reports have suggested that Mozambican nationals are crossing from that country into the east of the vast park to poach the animals, taking advantage of the open border created when the fences were removed to create a transfrontier park incorporating the KNP and sister parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The South African National Defence Force will from next month deploy an infantry company into the KNP to re-assert South African sovereignty along the border line. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu have said this will include action against poachers. It is known Special Forces, with specialist surveillance equipment, also deployed in the KNP last year to support park rangers in arresting poachers.