Detectives are said to be closing in on a rhino poaching kingpin after they arrested eight suspects, believed to be his accomplices, and recovered three hunting rifles last week.
The eight were linked to the killing of eight rhinos at Klipkopspruit Game Reserve, near Rustenburg, on November 17.
While more arrests were expected to be made, Hawks spokesperson Capt Paul Ramaloko said the ring was closing in on the suspected mastermind.
“We are satisfied with the progress in the arrest of the eight suspects so far and I can safely say we are getting to the real culprit who orchestrated this senseless killing of rhinos. Our details would soon be knocking on the kingpin’s door and other suspects,” he said.
Ramaloko pointed out that the rhino poaching task team had scored big victories after arresting eight suspects in a matter of days.
“Our team worked with dedication and after arresting three suspects early in the week, we managed to nab another five on Friday. All the arrests were made in Gauteng, in areas like Pretoria Central, Katlehong, Alberton, Matebele informal settlements and others. Of those arrested, only one has been identified as a Mozambican national while the rest are locals. Their ages range from 36 to 58,” he said.
The first three suspects appeared in the Brits Magistrate’s Court last week and were remanded in custody until their next court appearance on Tuesday next week.
“The five arrested on Friday will appear in the same court today facing charges of rhino poaching,” Ramaloko said.
The November 17 killings brought to 73 the number of rhinos killed in 2012 in North West alone, a figure that has raised political temperatures in the province.
Last week the DA called for the firing of tourism MEC Motlalepule Rosho, accusing her of doling out hunting permits. However, her department refuted the allegations and pointed out that Rosho was working with law enforcement agents to bring an end to poaching in the province.
Premier Thandi Modise welcomed the arrest of suspects and called for stiffer penalties for those convicted.
“Though the network of the syndicate of cruelty and brutality against the rhino as a symbol of our ecology and rich heritage is crumbling, we would be satisfied with nothing less than the arrest of the kingpins behind the evil trade in rhino horns,” she said.