'Arrogant' rhino poachers each get 15 years in prison

2015-04-22 18:13

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Mbombela - Four Mpumalanga men convicted of trespassing and illegal hunting in the Kruger National Park were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment each.

Patrick Ngwenya, 28, from Marite village, Sibusiso Mpangane, 26, and Thulani Mchunu, 31, both from Mkhuhlu village, and Charles Zitha, 29, from Nyongane village, were sentenced when they appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Wednesday.

They were found guilty of trespassing, carrying out a restricted activity in the game reserve and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.

State prosecutor Isbet Erwee said poaching related crimes were prevalent in the regional court.

"The court is aware of the increase of such cases in the past four years. Since July last year until February, cases of rhino poaching were high in the Kruger National Park and some carcasses have still not been found," she said.

Erwee said 34 rhino poaching cases were recorded in July last year, 75 in August, 60 in September, 27 in November, 66 in December, 49 in January and 22 in February.

“A total of 53 firearms, 228 ammunition, 42 axes, nine vehicles and 20 rhino horns were seized during the arrests. In each poaching group arrested there were two or more firearms, knives and axes,” she said.

The prosecutor said since the arrest of the four accused in court, poaching had increased in the Kruger Park.

“This is despite attempts and further attempts in actively handling poaching operations, or convictions of suspects. But still, people don't seem to listen. When the rhinos are killed, they only take the horns and not the meat,” she said.

Erwee said the accused showed no respect for the law and they also intimidated witnesses.

“Unfortunately we have no proof whether it was the first time they hunted illegally in the park or not. They were well organised, armed with firearms for the crime with a place for entering.

“The rangers have to be thanked for their level of handling poaching... with helicopter on standby. These men are from the country and they are a disgrace as it is commonly foreigners from Mozambique who usually commit such crimes,” she said.

She  said it was high time that Mozambicans were educated from an early age about the dangers of poaching.

'Arrogant, disrespectful and greedy'

Magistrate André Geldenhuys said the crime was well planned as each of the accused had a weapon, meaning they all acted with a common purpose.

“As society is against the killing of rhino, they expect the courts to give sentences that would deter others from committing similar offences and prevent it. You fired a shot at the rangers, a clear indication you planned to kill them. Although the State could not prove you were hunting for rhino, it is clear you were hunting for it by carrying firearms and an axe,” he said.

Geldenhuys said the Kruger Park was the hardest hit by rhino poaching in the country.

“You show no remorse. You even tried misleading the court. You are arrogant, disrespectful and greedy. You were working for a syndicate and you obtained the firearms illegally.

“You are sentenced to five years each for count one. Count two and three will go together and the sentence is 10 years each, meaning a total of 15 imprisonment in jail each,” he said.

All four have been declared unfit to possess a firearm. 
Read more on:    mbombela  |  rhino poaching

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