Hawks nab alleged Gauteng rhino poaching kingpins

The Hawks have announced a significant breakthrough in a two-year long operation that led to the arrest of two men suspected of being kingpins in a rhino poaching syndicate operating in Gauteng.

The Hawks' Colonel Johan Jooste said on Tuesday in Pretoria that the directorate, in cooperation with SANParks, had managed to disrupt the supply chain of poached rhino horn from the Kruger National Park.

"We made a paradigm shift in wildlife trafficking and the whole supply chain," said Jooste.

He explained that Mandla Mashele, 37, and Kelvin Malapane, 30, were not suspected of being poachers themselves, but allegedly acquired rhino horn and then facilitated the export of the horn to Southeast Asia.

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"These specific persons have recruited people to obtain rhino horn, then they will pay a high price for the horn that will be received by the two or three runners working for them and from there they will supply end user markets," said Jooste.

He said this was significant because it effectively disrupts the supply chain of poached rhino horn from Kruger National Park to the greater Gauteng area.

"We will always see the ripple effect in terms of how effective it was, so it's always important irrespective of how big the syndicate was."

Plan to reduce poaching incidents

Historically, the Kruger National Park has been a hot spot for rhino poaching. In 2017, of the 1 028 rhino that were poached in South Africa, 504 were poached from the park.

Mashele and Malapane were arrested at the end of May and appeared in the Benoni Magistrate's Court where they were released on bail of R50 000 each.  

Jooste said the specific incident for which they were arrested involved four rhino horn valued at R1.5m.

The duo has been charged with the illegal sale of rhino horn, but more charges may be added at a later stage.

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SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni applauded the arrests and said that there was a strategy in place to deal with the scourge of rhino poaching.

He said the organisation was committed to ensuring that less than 400 rhinos would be poached in South Africa in 2019 and less than 160 in 2020.

"That's the plan. We are here to protect and see the rhino numbers grow."

The case against Mashele and Malapane has been postponed to July 13 for further investigation.

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