Four Kruger Park poachers found guilty

2015-04-10 19:47
Black rhino and calf. (WWF)

Black rhino and calf. (WWF)

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Mbombela - Four men who entered the Kruger National Park with the intention of hunting rhinos have been found guilty.

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

They were found guilty of possession of illegal firearms, ammunition, trespassing and carrying out a restricted activity in the Kruger National Park (KNP).

The four were arrested by rangers on December 7 2010, while hunting in the KNP.

They had all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A fifth accused, Bongi Mliba, was fatally shot during an exchange of gunfire between the suspects and the rangers.

A 9mm pistol, an R5 rifle, ammunition and an axe were recovered from the scene.

During judgment, Magistrate Andre Geldenhuys the evidence from two rangers who were on patrol that day was that they had spotted five suspicious-looking men, from a distance of 2km, walking inside the park.

"The rangers were in a high point and they did not lose sight of the suspects. They said two of them carried long rifles, one a bag and another an axe. The men were approximately 1.2km from the fence," he said.

The magistrate said hat after the rangers shouted at them to stop, the suspects fired on them.

"The rangers said after they fired back, the men started running in different directions. Some threw down something which looked like firearms. The rangers called for backup and a helicopter soon arrived to assist in the chase," he said.

Trail of blood

Geldenhuys said two other witnesses who were in the helicopter testified that they saw four men splitting up while being chased by rangers.

“Two men took the same direction towards the fence and the others another. The helicopter circled around, until three of them were apprehended outside the fence, next to a dam.

“A fourth suspect, who was wounded during the shootout, was arrested inside the park. The R5 rifle was found about six metres from where he lay,” the magistrate said.

He said Ngwenya, in his defence, denied involvement in the case.

“You said you were fishing at the dam, where you were caught. You had fish in your bag which you caught. You said you first saw accused two and three in police cells. You were misleading the court. Why was there no mention of the fish line, nets and fish you caught?” he asked.

Geldenhuys said the witnesses were not challenged by Ngwenya's defence about that. He said Mpangane also lied that he was also caught fishing with Ngwenya at the same dam.

“Mchunu said he was looking after cattle outside the park, when he got shot and arrested. He was pointed out by his co-accused which direction he took.

“The rangers found a trail of blood, followed it and found him. The R5 rifle was lying next to him. You were never shot while outside the park, and then dragged inside and arrested,” he told the accused.

He said the 9mm pistol was also revealed by the other three accused.

“If it wasn't for you, no one could find it. It had fallen deep in a dense bush. Mliba was also shot during the shoot-out with the rangers. Unfortunately he passed away,” he said.

Geldenhuys said the rangers impressed the court and were credible in their evidence.

“The rangers never changed their statements. They also did not intend to incriminate the accused. Their evidence is admissible,” he said.

Geldenhuys said the court was satisfied and believed without doubt that all the accused acted with a common purpose in mind, to hunt rhino for their horns.

He found all four equally guilty on all charges they faced.

The case was postponed to April 22 for sentencing.

Read more on:    mbombela  |  rhino poaching  |  crime

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