Pretoria: 28 May 2015 – Following the arrest of a Chinese national in Mozambique, the South African Police Service’s Rhino Task Team (task team) based at the Kruger National Park will work closely with Mozambican authorities to have the DNA samples of rhino horns found in that country to be tested to establish if they belong to some of the rhinos killed in South Africa.
“This is a very positive development for us and we have been working closely with our counterparts in Mozimabique. Should the results come back positive, we will most certainly initiate an investigation to determine if we can link these suspects to cases and individuals here in South Africa,” said SAPS National Commissioner General Riah Phiyega.
The members of the task team received information via the South African National Parks Board’s Environmental Management Inspectors that authorities in Mozambique have recovered large quantities of rhino horns weighing a staggering 124 kilogrammes and elephant ivory weighing a massive 1126 kilogrammes. A Chinese national, who was found in possession of the horns and ivory, has since been arrested in Mozambique. The combined value of the horns and ivory is estimated at R65 million.
The task team and staff from the SANParks travelled to Matola, Mozambique, and took samples of all the rhino horns. The rhino horn samples will be compared to the E-Rhodis database at the University of
Pretoria. South Africa’s interest in having the DNA samples taken and tested stems from the strong belief that some of those rhino horns may belong to the rhinos killed in the Kruger National Park, which shares the border with Mozambique.
The park has been losing its rhinos and some of the suspects arrested in connection with poaching in the park are Mozambicans. The SAPS authorities take this co-operation with Mozambique very seriously as they believe that it will assist the two countries tremendously in the fight against rhino poaching and other environmental crimes.
The task team has since July 2014 until May 2015 arrested a total of 133 suspects. These suspects were arrested during operations in and outside the park. The suspects were arrested for offences ranging from illegal possession of firearms, illegal possession of ammunition, murder, trespassing in a national park, hunting a protected species, possession and dealing with rhino, racketeering, theft of rhino horn and possession of firearm to commit a crime.
Through hard work and dedication the police managed to secure about 34 convictions for cases spanning from 2010 and 2015. The number of convictions could have been 37, but charges were withdrawn against
three suspects whose cases are not linked. Of the three, one was withdrawn after a plea agreement with the defence. What was fulfilling to our members is the fact that their accomplices were not spared,
because they received hefty sentences. The accused and suspects in these cases are Mozambican and South African nationals who were among other areas were arrested in Skukuza, Komatipoort, Bedfordview and Middelburg and were convicted in different courts in Mpumalanga after their cases were centralised.
One of the most recent convictions was the conviction of Mucindi Abondi and Silver Tibane on May 14, 2015 to 30 years imprisonment. Each wassentenced to five years for trespassing, 15 years for possession of firearm with the intent to commit a crime, 10 years for possession of unlicensed firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
In another conviction, Ngoc Pham was sentenced to five years for possession and dealing in rhino horn, five years for racketeering and was also fined R100 000. The sentence related to cases which were opened in Gauteng’s glitzy suburb of Bedfordview and Middelburg in Mpumalanga.
Just in February 2015, Andries Zitha was sentenced to 25 years after he was found guilty of hunting a protected animal in a national park, trespassing in a national park, possession of unlicensed firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
The highlight of all these convictions was the hefty sentence of 77 years imprisonment, which was meted against Mandla Chauke for charges ranging from murder, illegal hunting of 3 rhinos, possession of firearm and ammunition, theft of rhino horn and trespassing in a national park.