By Lynette Strauss
In Kruger National Park
On Sunday, September 26, Pafuri field rangers found familiar human tracks in the Vlakteplaas region where three rhinos have been poached in the last five months. They notified Corporate Investigations Services (CIS) who sent up a reaction team.
The team picked up the spoor early on Monday morning and shortly thereafter the carcass of a fifth Rhino that had been shot the previous day. At first light the following day in a joint operation with Mozambican police force members from the Pafuri border the tracks were followed across the border into Mozambique.
About an hour later they found two firearms, an AK47 and a .303 rifle, stashed in a tree that seemed to be used often by the suspects. Following the tracks, the investigation team came to where the suspects had hidden their bicycles. These tracks led the team to the banks of the Limpopo River where they withdrew as there were too many people and the operation may have been compromised.
Later that afternoon the follow-up continued when the tracks were picked up on the northern bank of the Limpopo River and followed to a residence in a village known as Chale situated on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border. The team resumed the operation after midnight and arrested a suspect who confessed to everything.
"It was a father and son team and according to the son his father was on his way to another village to sell the horn," says Don English of CIS. The team followed the leads to Chicualacuala where they were told the father had only passed through on his way to another destination. The tracks were followed for a distance of approximately 50 km and the entire operation stretched over a distance of approximately 90 km.
On September 30, the Mozambican authorities informed CIS that the suspect had turned himself in. CIS met with the newly established Mozambican Environmental Crime Unit in Maputo to discuss the case. The investigation team returned to Xikwalakwala on Monday, October 17 as part of an ongoing joint investigation.
In another incident Nwanetsi field rangers arrested a suspect in the Park last week. The field rangers investigated an area just south of Nwanetsi after they heard dogs barking. They found four people and six dogs at a buffalo carcass just inside Kruger.
"We suspect they had snared the buffalo on the Mozambican side and he found his way into Kruger, where they killed it," says Albert Machabe, regional ranger for the Central region.
Albert and Thomas Ramabulana, Nwanetsi section ranger, were on their way to a meeting when they were called to the scene. The poachers had already skinned the buffalo and were hacking chunks of meat off to carry into Mozambique. The field rangers managed to apprehend one suspect.
He was taken to Skukuza Police Station where he is in custody and is expected to appear in court on Wednesday, October 26. "I am very proud of the team, especially the two female field rangers who had stood their ground well," says Albert.