The Skukuza regional court has sentenced four rhino poachers, including a former SANParks employee, to lengthy jail terms on a number of charges.
The offences were committed in the Kruger National Park in 2019 and the arrests were made by the Kruger National Park Rangers Corps.
Nito Mathebula was arrested in Tshokwane section in January 2019 while hunting in the park illegally.
Two of his accomplices managed to evade arrest. He was found guilty of trespassing in a national park, contravening the Immigration Act and of killing a rhino.
Mathebula was sentenced to an effective 13 years in jail last Friday.
In another case, Phineas Dinda, who is a former SANParks full corporal in the Rangers Corps, Arlindo Manyike from Mozambique and Alfa Gwebana were arrested in Tshokwane section in May 2019.
They were found guilty of trespassing in a national park, conspiracy to commit a crime, and possession of an unlicensed firearm, live ammunition and an axe.
Manyike was also found guilty of contravening the Immigration Act.
They were sentenced to an effective 16 years in prison.
Gareth Coleman, managing executive of Kruger National Park, welcomed the sentences.
“We would like to congratulate the prosecution, the police and our hard working and dedicated Rangers Corps who arrested the suspects and presented credible evidence that led to the sentences imposed by the courts.
“We hope this will send a message to others that justice will ultimately be served,” Coleman said.
He said it was particularly concerning that an employee was arrested and imprisoned.
“We are aware of the involvement of employees in colluding with poachers,” Coleman said.
Coleman called on staff with information on collusion to come forward.
“With the reopening of the Skukuza court we are seeing a significant increase in convictions.
“We expect this trend to increase. Poachers may find short-term benefit from poaching but they will be apprehended, impacting on their own, their families’ and community livelihoods,” Coleman said.
The Skukuza court has not been operational for more than a year after Mpumalanga regional court president Naomi Engelbrecht wanted to move its scheduled cases to the Mhala circuit court.
Her decision was declared invalid.
The court resumed hearing cases on April 1.