POLICE have failed to make any arrests in connection with rhino poaching incidences in the Free State since 2009, raising fears senior wildlife officials could be involved in sophisticated rustling syndicates.
The latest case of poaching in the province happened in September when two rhinos were shot and dehorned in the Sandveld Reserve, close to Bloemhof.
That brought the number of poaching cases in the Free State to 10 since 2009, when two rhinos were shot and dehorned on a private game farm in the Ficksburg area.
Investigations into all of the poaching in the province have, however, been shelved because of lack of evidence.
This has raised suspicions senior wildlife officials with influence on law-enforcement bodies could be involved in poaching.
The Joint Provincial Rhino Committee — made up of the police, the Green Scorpions, SARS and the National Prosecution Authority — acts as the law-enforcement network to fight rhino poaching in the Free State.
Police spokesperson, Captain Roelien Kuhn, however confirmed no arrests have been made in connection with rhino poaching cases in the province since 2009.
“The police will arrest suspects if they have sufficient evidence to link somebody to the related crime,” she told the Free State Times.
Tourism and environmental affairs spokesperson, Kgotso Tau, said rhino poaching had become a sophisticated syndicate crime.
“This is getting very serious and everybody should be involved to break the back of this evil tendency,” he said.
“We have various patrols in farming communities for visibility and we have also beefed up the security in our reserves.
“We need to educate poor rural communities living around conservation areas who are easily tempted by poachers to get involved in their dirty work.”
Concerned players in the wildlife industry this week said it could not be excluded that senior officials in the provincial government were involved in some of the poaching incidents.
“It is a money-making game,” a rhino keeper in the Free State said, preferring not to be named.
“Trophy hunting has become ludicrous with the indiscriminate issuing of permits to hunt rhino or export them to other provinces.”
Rhino poaching was almost nonexistent in the Free State before 2009.
Anita Hughes was apparently the first victim, when her two rhinos were shot and dehorned at her private game farm in Ficksburg.
Hughes said it was “dangerous” to discuss the situation.
“I spoke to the investigating team a few months ago and they assured me the investigation was at a very sensitive stage,” she said.
“To have seen my animals like that, I have no words to describe the feeling.”
Early in 2010, two rhinos were shot in the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve near Winburg.
In the same year, on April 27, a rhino was poached on a private game farm in Kroonstad owned by Viljee Crous.
Crous this week told the Free State Times he had never had any feedback on the poaching case on his farm.
“I lost one white rhino,” he said.
“The police and officials from environmental affairs could not find any trace leading to the suspects.
“I still have rhinos but I have removed their horns.”
This year in March, two rhinos were shot and slaughtered — again in the government-protected Willem Pretorius Game Reserve.
A docket was opened but apparently closed later because of lack of evidence.
In September, two rhinos were shot and dehorned in the Sandvleld Reserve close to Bloemhof. Again, “lack of evidence” has left the investigation in limbo.