Imfolozi poaching: six in court

2011-12-03 00:00

ONE rhino is being killed by poachers in South Africa every 20 hours and 49 minutes, according to statistics gathered this year.

Yet for 18 years until 2007 the average rate of rhino being poached was one per month.

The reasons for the alarming increase are still under investigation.

The dramatic statistic was presented in the Empangeni Regional Court by international rhino expert Dr Richard Emslie.

Emslie was called by state advocate Yuri Gengai to testify in aggravation of sentence at the trial of two men convicted of illegal possession of a rhino horn seized from a vehicle at Heidelberg on November 11, 2010.

The horn was linked to the carcass of a rhino found in Imfolozi game reserve.

Khulekani Nkomonde and Vusimuzi Msimango were found guilty by regional court magistrate H.V. Ngema on Thursday and will be sentenced on December 19.

According to evidence the two men, who live near the reserve, claimed they fortuitously come across a rhino carcass and took the horn after illegally entering the park for a hunting expedition with dogs.

Emslie warned in his evidence against the view that possession of rhino horn is less serious than the actual killing of rhino.

“Seen against a photograph of a bloody poached carcass, the simple possession and transporting of illegal horn and/or dealing in rhino horn somehow seem more benign … horns have to get from the field where they have been poached, stolen or illegally bought in order to enter the end user markets in South East Asia and Yemen for the trade to exist.

“It is the illegal demand for rhino horn which ultimately results in rhinos being poached,” he said. He said further the motives of rhino poachers are different to those people who poach for food.

Emslie highlighted the economic impact of rhino poaching on South Africa as well as the potential harm to future rhino breeding patterns, and said the significant increase in rhino poaching since 2007 has begun to tarnish the country’s “proud and hard-earned rhino conservation record internationally” bringing South Africa under the scrutiny of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which monitors the trade in endangered species.

In a separate trial four men appeared this week in the regional court in Richards Bay on rhino poaching charges after they were arrested at 8 pm on the night of August 26, 2009, with a freshly hacked-off pair of rhino horns on the back of their bakkie just outside Imfolozi game reserve.

Ezemvelo section ranger Lawrence Munro, who was instrumental in the arrests, took numerous photographs at the scene and of the four accused — Mtungokwakhe Khoza (40) of Ulundi, Ayanda Buthelezi of Vosloorus, Defence Force member Mduduzi Xulu (40) and Sifiso Ngema (19) of Empangeni.

He pointed out to the court bloodstains on arms and hands, clothing and shoes worn by Khoza, Xulu and Ngema, whose pants were wet and sandy from the knees down, indicating they might have waded across the White Imfolozi River on whose banks the carcass of the slain rhino was spotted by plane the next day.

The accused have pleaded not guilty. Khoza, Xulu and Ngema claim to have been given a lift by Buthelezi and all four men have denied any knowledge about how the rhino horns came to be in the bakkie.

The case was postponed to June 18, and the accuseds’ R10 000 bail extended.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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