Rhinos: KZN farmers held

2012-03-12 00:00

BAIL is to be opposed this week for five men, including two cattle and game farmers from northern KZN, arrested for rhino poaching, conspiracy to poach rhino and other charges.

They were arrested on March 4 when officers of the Durban organised crime unit and the national intervention unit sprung a trap set for them in connection with a planned operation to poach up to 10 rhinos in the “Big Five” Mkhuze Falls private game reserve in the Pongola area.

The accused are farmers Ewart Potgieter (34) of Louwsburg and Riaan Vermaak (32) of Newcastle, Filemon Mbatha (42), believed to be a farm worker, and Nkosinathi Sithole (34) and Mduduzi Sithole (29), who were game rangers at Mkhuze Falls.

The Witness was told the farmers had set out with undercover police agents in the early hours of the morning on the planned rhino hunt, and were arrested shortly after the boundary fence was cut to gain entry to the reserve. The other arrests followed soon afterwards.

Police later seized five hunting rifles and a pistol that were allegedly illegally in the possession of the accused, as well as 2 000 rounds of live ammunition.

During a search of Potgieter’s property police allegedly found the skin of a four-metre African rock python, a stash of 22 300 counterfeit U.S. dollars, 19 dagga plants, six cycads, which are protected plants, and an agricultural poison, Temic, whose possession is controlled.

The accused appeared in court at Magudu, about 30 km from Pongola, and their case was postponed until March 15 for a bail application.

The five were remanded in custody.

The Durban organised crime unit was also responsible for arresting a man in possession of a piece of a rhino horn at Jozini in northern KZN last Thursday.

The man was confronted and detained after police received information that he was looking for a buyer for the rhino horn in the village.

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