Johannesburg — Twenty-one people have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching in South Africa in the past three weeks.
Eleven people, including two veterinarians, a pilot and a game farmer, all allegedly part of a rhino poaching syndicate, were arrested in Limpopo last month.
National police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said it was believed they had been involved in several hundred incidents of rhino poaching, rhino killing, selling of the horns and disposing of the rhino carcasses over the past years.
They allegedly operated around Polokwane, Modimolle and Musina.
Veterinarian Karl Toet and his colleague Manie du Plessis were said to be the two alleged masterminds behind the syndicate.
All 11 were released on bail ranging from R20,000 to R1 million.
Another two men were arrested in Limpopo in connection with dehorning rhinos and the buying and selling of horns.
It was alleged that Jan Karel Pieter Els, 37, bought 36 rhino horns from Tom Fourie, 51, who allegedly dehorned the rhinos.
The men had appeared in the Musina Magistrate’s Court.
Els was released on R30,000 bail and Fourie R5000 bail.
A few days later three men were arrested inside the Kruger National Park by game rangers.
International Rhino Foundation
Removing the horn of a rhino to make it less appealing to poachers.
The game rangers came across the men walking around the park with rifles and allegedly in possession of two rhino horns while a carcass was found nearby.
They appeared in the White River Magistrate’s Court and were granted R7500 bail each.
Police were investigating the possibility that the men were part of a syndicate responsible for other poaching incidents in the area.
Last week five people believed to be rhino poachers were arrested in Ophathe Game Reserve near Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal.
The arrests were the result of months of investigating by a team of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff and police.
The group was expected to appear in the Ulundi Magistrate’s Court this week.
The Ophathe Game Reserve had been plagued by rhino poaching with three rhinos killed and their horns removed in the past ten days.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said the recent poaching of rhinos in the game reserve had bought the number of poached rhinos to 17 in KwaZulu-Natal this year.
South Africa has lost 210 rhinos to poaching since January, compared to 122 for all of last year.
Black-market demand for rhino horns had risen sharply as economic growth had spread through east and south-east Asia, where the horn was believed to have medicinal properties.
Wildlife monitoring group Traffic said the surge in demand, combined with endemic poverty in many rhino habitats, had helped to push rhino poaching to the highest levels in 15 years.