The three, Aselmo Baloyi, Jawaki Nkuna and Ismael Baloyi, were found guilty on four counts: illegal hunting of a rhino (10 years with an option of a R100 000 fine), possession of a prohibited firearm (15 years in prison), possession of a firearm (eight years) and possession of ammunition (15 years).
A fourth suspect linked to this group died in custody after attempting to escape in 2011. The accused were arrested in the Mooiplaas section in the northern parts of the Kruger National Park (KNP) on July 10, 2010.
"They were found with two freshly chopped rhino horns, an assault rifle, a hunting rifle and an axe," said chief executive officer, Dr David Mabunda. Minister of water and environmental affairs, Ms Edna Molewa, welcomed the convictions.
She believes the court sentence will send a strong message and hopefully act as a deterrent to poachers and would be poachers. The court sentence comes at a time when government is stepping up measures to combat rhino poaching.
This include the return of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to monitor the 350km of national border in Kruger and other country borders and the deployment of conservation specialists at ports through which the international trade in endangered species can be monitored.
The Department and SANParks are also beefing up patrols in the KNP by deploying an additional 150 rangers. There are also ongoing bilateral engagements between South Africa and Mozambique to deal with the cross-border law enforcement issues and processes.