Alleged rhino poaching syndicate arrested at North West game reserve

Zeerust - New details about a convicted rhino poacher, his syndicate of accomplices and their alleged inside source who allegedly showed them the locations of rhinos at an exclusive North West game reserve, emerged in a Zeerust courtroom this week.

The evidence emerged when three suspects, charged with illegal rhino poaching, appeared in the local magistrate's court.

So far, the case involves convicted rhino poacher Jethro Malema, 43, his accomplice and foreign national Alfonso Alberto Balate, and George Itumelang Thutlwa, 31, a field-guide at Madikwe Game Reserve.

In the meantime, further details around the case have unfolded, revealing that a former SAPS police officer - who is also a local community 'Kgosi' or headman in a nearby village - could also be arrested shortly for allegedly assisting the poachers, transporting them and supplying meals while they were in the bush.

The headman, who worked at the Nietverdiend police station, is out on bail for a case of stock-theft. He inherited the title of chief from his father.  

The SAPS would not confirm this due to the ongoing investigation.

According to reports, 16 rangers and Madikwe's anti-poaching unit began tracking Malema and Balate on Saturday night after finding their tracks following the spoor of several rhinos at the reserve. They are believed to have shot at least three rhinos, and on Monday, a helicopter was launched to search for and locate any wounded or dead rhino.

After the two suspects were located on Sunday, they were arrested by the SAPS’s Stock Theft Unit and Visible Policing Units. 

After showing their captors where their weapons and a bag of fresh clothing had been concealed, a K9 unit was called in.

Serial offender

Police confiscated a 303 hunting rifle fitted with a silencer, ammunition, a machete and cellphones as evidence.

Malema, whose rap sheet resembles a serial offender’s list of dodgy achievements, was convicted in Limpopo in 2014 for a 2012 case of illegal rhino poaching.

He was reportedly released early on parole, just 2 months ago after having served less than his eight-year sentence. His record also shows he is wanted for a 2011 case of housebreaking, and somehow managed to remain at large in connection with a 2009 case of motor-vehicle theft.

Balate is believed to be a foreign national from Mozambique.

Thutlwa was hauled in for questioning on Monday before being arrested on suspicion of supplying information to the poacher.

He is believed to have made a confession to a Zeerust magistrate on Tuesday before facing charges on Wednesday.

The case was postponed until July 10 when the accused are expected to apply for bail. Malema, Balate and Thutlwa have been remanded in custody.