Sergio Mathebula and July Sihlangu both aged 32 were nabbed on Wednesday, 21 September 2022 and made a brief appearance at Skukuza Regional Court the next day. They were remanded in custody and their case was postponed to Wednesday, 28 September 2022 for a formal bail application.
“The duo were caught red handed with a pair of Rhino horns, hunting rifle with six live ammunition, an axe, three mobile phones, two black bags and food,” said SAPS Mpumalanga spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala.
Park officials had received information about the suspects having illegally entered the Park. Other law enforcement agencies were subsequently mobilised to assist in tracing the alleged poachers who seems to have entered the Park through Malelane Section.
“A helicopter from Mission Area Manager was dispatched in order to help track these individuals. The said helicopter assisted a great deal as it enabled the crew members to spot two suspects. This information was shared with other law enforcement agencies on the ground. It was not long before the two were found hiding behind tall grass where they were cornered,” Mohlala added.
The two suspected rhino poachers were subsequently arrested and charged for the possession of unlicensed firearm with ammunition as well as illegal possession of rhino horn. The arrests coincidentally made a day before World Rhino Day on 22 September.
“Preliminary investigation has revealed that the two men from Mozambique have entered the Republic of South Africa without documentation thus they were also charged for contravening the country’s immigration act,” Mohlala said.
In addition, Mathebula and Sihlangu could face more charges as police say they cannot rule out the possibility of adding more charges against the two or link them to other crimes committed elsewhere as the investigation continues.
The Provincial Commissioner of the SAPS in Mpumalanga, Lieutenant General Semakaleng Daphney Manamela has welcomed the arrest of the suspects.
“This should send a clear message to others who might consider to cause injuries to the country’s pride in our National Parks. We previously indicated that a situation where people can just illegally enter the Park to poach will never be tolerated. The law will have to take its course against the suspects and we trust that the team of investigators working with the Prosecution team will do their best to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted without fear or favour,” she said.