Rhino horn ‘middlemen’ arrested in KZN

2012-07-23 00:00

TWO men arrested for rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal —one an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife field ranger — have links to national syndicates.

The two are allegedly “middlemen” supplying and transporting rhino horns to foreign buyers.

Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the men had been monitored for over a year.

They were arrested at Melmoth and Mtubatuba in northern KZN during a joint Ezemvelo-Durban Organised Crime Unit operation on Friday afternoon.

One is a ranger at Hluhluwe­iMfolozi Park, a rhino poaching hotspot, who joined Ezemvelo in 2004.

The Witness has established that the two were allegedly involved in finding buyers and arranging transport for horns obtained by poachers in KZN.

They are allegedly linked to two syndicates involving Chinese, Vietnamese and Malawian nationals who were arrested recently in Gauteng.

The alleged kingpin of one syndicate, Swazi-born Vusi Mashaba (40), of Zululand, is due to appear in a Germiston court again on August 3.

According to evidence by Warrant Officer Jean Pierre Roux, Mashaba is believed to be the link between rhino poachers in KZN and foreign buyers.

Mashaba was arrested in Bedford­view last month, along with Malawian Harrison Noah (26) and Chinese nationals Ke Sum (29), his wife, Xiaju Chen (29), and Liu Zihau (34).

They were allegedly caught in possession of rhino horns, elephant tusks and leopard skins.

Xiaju Chen has since been deported and her husband faces the same fate.

Zihau was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment last week, while Noah was fined R25 000 and given a three-year suspended jail sentence.

In the other case, Vietnamese nationals Chu Duc Cu Lit (22) and Nauyen Dang Khahn (24) are set to continue with their bail hearing in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

They were arrested at Midrand Golf Estate in an operation during which police seized 10 rhino horns.

The horns seized in the two operations are worth more than R40 million, according to reports.

Ezemvelo CEO Bandile Mkhize welcomed the latest arrests, including that of the ranger who, he said, did not deserve to work for the organisation.

“I trust that these arrests will demonstrate that Ezemvelo is serious about flushing out the rhino poaching syndicates,” he said.

Mkhize urged the public to help combat rhino poaching by SMSing the word “SAVE” to 44135 at a cost of R1,50. The funds raised will be used to buy equipment needed to fight professional syndicates that use sophisticated poaching equipment, he said.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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