The Mercury

Fine a slap on wrist, say officials

- Tony Carnie

THE Game Rangers Associatio­n of Africa has voiced dismay over the “slap on the wrist” sentences imposed on two former Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife field rangers who were caught trying to sell a rhino horn.

Sibusiso Ncube, 30, and Siyabonga Ndlela, 33, were fined R15 000 each in the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court last week, after pleading guilty to trying to sell the horn from a dead black rhino they found while patrolling the Imfolozi Game Reserve.

In contrast, two Mozambican nationals, Frans Makamu and Solomon Makhabo, were last week both jailed for 16 years in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court for illegal rhino hunting in the Kruger National Park.

Speaking at the annual KZN game auction at the weekend, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife chief executive Bandile Mkhize said he was pleased to announce that Ncube and Ndlela had both been fined R15 000 (or two years’ jail) after pleading guilty to trying to sell the horn to a friend in Ulundi, Senzo Sikhakane.

Sikhakane received a fine of R5 000 (or 12 months’ jail).

Mkhize said the men appeared to have been given lenient sentences because they had tried to sell the horn from a rhino which died of natural causes.

He said both rangers had resigned or been fired from Ezemvelo, and his organisati­on would not tolerate criminal activity in its ranks.

“We are here to conserve nature and cannot stand aloof when such acts occur, because if rhino poaching continues, we may end up talking about the Big Four instead of the Big Five,” he said.

Game Rangers Associatio­n of Africa chairman Andre Botha said the rangers seemed to have been given “a slap on the wrist”.

“We know that field rangers are not very well paid, but I would think their position as wildlife custodians should have been treated as an aggravatin­g factor. There are very clear procedures laid down on what should happen to the horns of a dead rhino, which the rangers would have known about.

“Selling any horns stimulates the illegal rhino horn trade and their actions were just as illegal as killing the rhinos with their own weapons. They were in positions of trust as wildlife custodians, and can be compared to policemen committing crimes instead of preventing crime.”

Botha said the South African judiciary should consider the need for exemplary deterrent sentences similar to those in Namibia and Swaziland.

‘Clear message’

The conservati­on group WWF SA has also commended the National Prosecutin­g Authority for the 16-year jail terms given to the Mozambican­s caught in Kruger.

“This is an excellent turn for the better in the war against rhino poaching and sends out a clear message to criminal syndicates that poaching will not be tolerated in South Africa,” the organisati­on said.

Meanwhile, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife raised R8.5 million at the annual game auction at Sibaya Casino, Umhlanga, on Friday, compared to the R13.5m at last year’s sale.

Ezemvelo officials said they had been forced to withdraw about 200 nyalas from the auction because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in northern KZN, thus foregoing about R1.3m from sales.

Neverthele­ss, auctioneer Brandon Leer said prices for white rhino remained “surprising­ly good”.

The highest price paid for a white rhino, a large bull, this year was R385 000. The average price for white rhinos this year was R215 000, very close to the average for last year.

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