Rhino poaching prime suspects back in jail

Trio rearrested on fresh charges while leaving court in Grahamstown

Three alleged rhino poachers – the prime suspects in dozens of poaching incidents in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere who were released on bail two weeks ago – are back behind bars on fresh charges as a picture of the full scale of their alleged carnage begins to emerge.

Less than a fortnight after securing bail in Grahamstown, the three were rearrested in the city after being linked to two other poaching incidents in Hoedspruit, near the Kruger National Park.

Investigators are probing their possible link to a countrywide poaching syndicate responsible for the slaughter of almost 100 rhinos.

Jabulani Ndlovu, 38, and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu, 37, of Port Elizabeth, and Forget Ndlovu, 40, of George, were released on R15 000 bail each by Judge John Smith in the Grahamstown High Court on May 17. The men are not related.

On Monday, detectives at the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit rearrested all three as they were leaving the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court after an appearance in connection with their case following their arrest in June last year.

The arrests have been welcomed by several Eastern Cape game reserve owners and antipoaching experts, one of whom warned that if the justice system was not able to move faster, the extinction of rhino in the wild was inevitable.

The three were apprehended last year in a chalet at Grahamstown’s Makana Resort with 10.27kg of rhino horn valued at close to R1-million.

The horn is believed to have belonged to a white rhino bull that was poached at nearby Bucklands Game Reserve hours before their arrest.

During the raid at the resort, police also found a saw, a dart gun and M99 tranquilliser.

Investigators close to the case said the three had been connected via forensic evidence to two poachings, in 2015 and last year, in the Hoedspruit district.

“The three have been rearrested on two warrants of arrest that had been issued in Hoedspruit,” one of the officials, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the case, said.

“The men are in police custody and will be transported to Hoedspruit where they will appear on the other two poaching [charges].”

All three are due to be charged in the Hoedspruit Magistrate’s Court within the week.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Sibongile Soci confirmed the three had been rearrested and would appear in court soon.

During the men’s bail bid last year, police compiled an explosive report claiming they were possibly linked to a countrywide poaching syndicate responsible for the slaughter of almost 100 rhinos across South Africa.

In an affidavit submitted to court in November, investigators said the three were the prime suspects in 40 rhino killings in the Eastern Cape, as well as about 50 in KwaZulu-Natal, five in Limpopo and four in the Southern Cape.

The affidavit stated the trio were being probed for 20 similar Eastern Cape poaching cases, involving some 40 rhinos poached since 2009, most of which had been darted.

Based on evidence already gathered, the Asset Forfeiture Unit raided Jabulani’s luxury Lovemore Heights house to seize assets believed to be the ill-gotten gains of the illegal rhino trade.

Wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds, who has attended several rhino poaching scenes, said that unless the justice system acted swiftly to deter poaching, the consequences would be dire.

“The rhino community is deeply concerned about the high number of high-profile poaching syndicates and kingpins who are yet to face trial or are out on bail.

“It is our opinion that extinction of rhino in the wild is inevitable if the justice system is not able to do its work effectively and see these cases through,” Fowlds said.

“Without the deterrent of effective law enforcement and justice, other poaching syndicates and gangs continue to rampage through our wildlife heritage.”

Rodney Visser, intelligence coordinator of the Indalo Group which consists of several reserves in the Grahamstown area, said: “We as rhino owners who lost rhino to poaching by means of darting praise the . . . rearrest of the Ndlovu three.

“We are grateful they have once again been jailed. The number of criminal cases investigated against the trio and the gruesomeness involved are unbelievably shocking, and their arrest is welcomed.”

The breakthrough came two years after the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit was ordered to take the lead in all fresh rhino poaching incidents, while the Organised Crime wing of the Hawks was sidelined to only advise or assist the unit on request.

Specialist environmental crimes prosecutor Advocate Bucks Coetzee will be prosecuting the case.

Gareth Wilson – HERALD LIVE

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