Cele muzzles police on rhino poaching

Skukuza - The office of National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele has banned all provincial and regional police communication officers from commenting on issues concerning rhino poaching.

The ban followed the death of two suspected rhino poachers who were killed during a shoot-out with South African National Defence Force soldiers in the Kruger National Park on Thursday.

On Friday, provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Hlathi refused to comment on the shoot-out and referred all questions to national police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer.

“I suggest you telephone the national office for comment because we are not allowed to comment on stories concerning rhino poaching,” Hlathi told African Eye News Service (AENS) on Friday.

Hlathi's senior, Brigadier Lindelani Mashego confirmed that local or provincial police were no longer allowed to comment on rhino poaching incidents.

"There's an agreement between the affected parties and other government departments that the issue of rhino poaching has to be communicated through the national office of the police.

"The national office has come up with a joint operation working with the intelligence and they are the ones who are handling questions from the media about rhino poaching issues," said Mashego.  

20 suspected rhino poachers killed

However, when AENS contacted De Beer, she also refused to comment on the grounds that the police did not release a statement concerning the matter.

“The Kruger National Park should comment,” said De Beer.

Attempts to get SANDF joint tactical head office provincial spokesperson Captain Albert Mathonsi to comment were futile.

"We don't speak to the media, we are only here to assist the police deal with rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park," said Mathonsi.

South African National Parks (SANParks) spokesperson Reynold Thakhuli confirmed that two suspected poachers were killed on Thursday following a shoot-out with soldiers.

"The shoot-out ensued after three armed men confronted the soldiers and started firing without uttering a word. One of the soldiers was short in the leg and the soldiers shot back, killing the two men and injuring the other one,” said Thakhuli.

He said an AK-47 and a hunting rifle were seized from the scene.

Thakhuli said at least 20 suspected rhino poachers had been killed this year alone while 69 were arrested.

This year, more than 159 rhino have been killed in the Kruger alone. Altogether, about 150 suspected rhino poachers have been arrested nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has suggested that rhino horns be poisoned to deter poachers.

The idea was put forward during discussions held at Kromdraai, outside Pretoria, last week.

Reserve spokesperson Lorinda Hern said poisoning rhino horns may reduce the demand in Asian countries, where rhino horn is used for medicinal purposes, most notably as an aphrodisiac.
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