NELSPRUIT - Three Mozambican nationals were jailed for 16 years each on Friday, for killing a white rhino and its calf in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
A Sapa correspondent reported that Julius Ngwenya, 20, Daniel Jadere, 22, and Antonio Malunga, 20, pleaded guilty to five charges when they appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court.
Their charges included entering the KNP without written authorisation from management, carrying out a restricted activity in a designated area (namely killing and dehorning a white rhino cow and its calf), and possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition.
They were arrested in the Crocodile Bridge area on 10 May last year during a joint operation involving SA National Parks (SANParks) environmental crime investigators and rangers, police and army.
During their arrest, a fourth suspect, known as Benet, was shot dead.
In their confession statement the three men stated they knew what they did was a very serious offence and pleaded for leniency.
They told the court they were recruited by the fourth suspect who was fatally wounded during their arrest.
They said Benet had promised them R2,000 each for helping him get rhino horns.
They testified in their statement that they gained access to the KNP by jumping over a fence and that Benet shot both animals using an automatic hunting rifle.
Their testimony included that they dehorned the animals using an axe, but got caught when they started walking back to the fence.
Prosecutor Isbet Erwee said the State accepted their plea and argued that they pleaded guilty after realising the seriousness of the charges and strong evidence against them.
Erwee said the KNP was hardest hit in the country and most of the suspects were from neighbouring Mozambique.
She stated the three accused, despite being remorseful, gave rangers a hard time during their arrest, and that a helicopter had to be used to search them out.
Magistrate Edward Hall told the three the charges were very serious as a hunting automatic rifle and ammunition as well as three rhino horns were found in their possession.
"The rate of poaching increases despite the efforts by the two governments. Mozambican poachers will in future be followed right into their own country and be arrested there," he said.
"This is what the ministers in the two countries have agreed upon, as [before this] Mozambicans could not be arrested once they have crossed the border."