Poachers trap cops

2010-08-09 00:00

POLICE and ER24 paramedics were held hostage by an aggressive 500-strong crowd in the wake of a mass invasion of private land by heavily armed poachers on Saturday. In the ensuing gun battles, police shot and wounded a suspected poacher and killed two hunting dogs.

The dogs were allegedly shot after some of the poachers set them on the police, who were chasing them.

No police officers or paramedics were injured.

The skirmishes took place on a privately owned conservancy near Idube race track at Camperdown.

Provincial police spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Mndunge said yesterday the incident seemed to have been based on a “misconception” on the part of the poachers and local community that they had a legitimate right to be on the land and to hunt there.

“They claimed the land was awarded to them through the land claims process,” he said.

Mndunge said this aspect will be further investigated.

Sources told The Witness that on their arrival at the property the poachers — about 65 in all — chased a caretaker away telling him this was “ANC land” and that they were going to hunt there.

Police recovered the carcasses of two nyala ewes, which were found to have been killed by hunting dogs, at the scene of the incident.

The suspected poacher was wounded in his shoulder and a police dog bit him on his legs and arms.

He was reportedly in a stable condition under police guard in a Pietermaritzburg hospital yesterday, and is expected to appear in court once he has sufficiently recovered from his injuries.

He faces charges of illegal hunting of game, attempted murder of members of the SA Police Force and public violence.

The related hostage drama ended without further bloodshed after a tense stand-off lasting “four to five hours” while senior police officials negotiated with the community to allow a contingent of around 30 police, an ambulance and two emergency response vehicles to leave the area.

Only the ambulance taking the injured suspect to hospital was initially permitted to leave by the crowd.

Hundreds of angry community members supporting the actions of an estimated group of about 65 poachers — armed with handguns, rifles, spears, shields, and hunting dogs — used their vehicles to blockade a single track dirt road leading out of the densely wooded valley where the shooting occurred.

The attitude of the mob, which far outnumbered the “hostages”, was described as “very threatening”.

Sources told The Witness that the attackers made use of between five and six bakkies and were in cellphone contact with one another as the drama unfolded.

While the negotiations continued, the sound of gunfire could still be heard in the valley below.

The first policemen on the scene — two members of the dog unit from Pietermaritzburg — were fortunate to escape with their lives after being surrounded by a group of about 50 to 60 of the armed poachers they were pursuing, and became embroiled in a gunfight.

A police helicopter was deployed to assist them and helped disperse the attackers.

Police reinforcements also arrived and continued the pursuit of the poachers.

Meanwhile the injured suspect was allegedly placed in a bakkie and driven away from the scene of the shooting by some of his companions.

The Witness was told that ambulances and police reinforcements, already on standby in the area received a message — which later turned out to be false — to rush to the Dunbar Spar as a security guard had been wounded in a cash-in-transit robbery there.

An ambulance responding to that false report was flagged down and directed to the place where paramedics were asked to treat the injured suspect.

Police, having established that the robbery report was false, followed the emergency services to the area, where they encountered the enraged community members.

SIDEBAR:

In another poaching incident this weekend a group of honorary officers patrolling the Thurlow area of the Midmar Nature Reserve observed poachers pursuing a young Red Hartebees antelope with dogs. Conservation staff who responded to the report came across a pack of dogs attacking the antelope and shot and killed four of the dogs, but were unable to save the antelope. No-one was arrested.

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