In 2017, 504 rhinos were poached from the Kruger National Park. Announcing a breakthrough on Tuesday, the Hawks said two accused, alleged to be kingpins in the movement of rhino horn out of the country, were arrested. The arrests were the culmination of a two-year investigation.
Investigators from the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (Hawks) and their counterparts in SanParks believe they have disrupted the supply chain of poached rhino horn from the Kruger National Park via Gauteng to SouthEast Asia.
Announcing the breakthrough on Tuesday, Colonel Johan Jooste said:
“We made a paradigm shift in wildlife trafficking and the whole supply chain.”
Two men, Mandla Patrick Mashele, 37, and Kelvin Hahlane Malapane, 30, handed themselves over to police and have subsequently been released on R50,000 bail with stringent conditions after they made a brief appearance in court.
Both men are from Benoni and are alleged to be the masterminds behind acquiring the poached rhino horn from the parks and facilitating its movement to markets in SouthEast Asia.
The Hawks’ Colonel Johan Jooste said on Tuesday in Pretoria that the directorate, in co-operation with SANParks, had managed to disrupt the supply chain of poached rhino horn from the Kruger National Park.
Mashele and Malapane, Jooste said, were not suspected of being poachers themselves, but allegedly acquired rhino horn and then facilitated the export of the horn to SouthEast Asia.
“These specific persons have recruited people to obtain rhino horn, then they will pay a high price for the horn that will be received by the two or three runners working for them and from there they will supply end user markets,” said Jooste.
He said this was significant because it effectively disrupts the supply chain from Kruger National Park to the greater Gauteng area.
“We will always see the ripple effect in terms of how effective it was, so it’s always important irrespective of how big the syndicate was.”
Jooste said the specific incident for which they were arrested involved four rhino horn valued at R1.5-million.
The duo has been charged with the illegal sale of rhino horn, but more charges may be added at a later stage.
On releasing them on bail, the court ordered the two to forfeit their passports and report to the nearest police station daily between 07:00 and 08:00.
Historically, the Kruger National Park has been a hot spot for rhino poaching. In 2017, 504 were poached from the park.
In January, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa released the 2017 poaching numbers for South Africa. The numbers indicated that 1,028 rhino were poached in 2017, a decrease by 26 from the 1,054 rhino killed in 2016.
Then Molewa indicated that 502 rhino poachers and 16 alleged traffickers had been arrested nationally, bringing the total figure to 518 arrests. Twenty-five officials across various government departments were arrested for their roles in the poaching incidents.
Following a surge in rhino poaching in the country in the past few years, the Department of Environmental Affairs, Game Parks, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders put in place a number of anti-poaching operations to curb the scourge of rhino poaching. It was this that resulted in a 7.6% decrease in rhino killed in the Kruger National Park in 2018.
South Africa is said to be a soft target for rhino poaching because the country has by far the largest population of rhino in the world and has been unable to clamp down effectively on poaching despite several interventions, including integrity testing for SanParks staff and a full vetting process.
Commenting on the recent arrests, SanParks spokesperson, Issac Phaahla, said rhino poaching remains a huge problem.
“Rhino poaching is still a huge concern in the country but we are confident that our strategy on the reduction of this scourge is beginning to pay off.”
SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni applauded the arrests and said there was a strategy in place to deal with the scourge of rhino poaching.
He said the organisation was committed to ensuring that fewer than 400 rhinos would be poached in South Africa in 2019 and less than 160 in 2020.
The accused will appear in court on 13 July. – Additional Reporting by News24. DM