Three Zimbabwean nationals arrested in Grahamstown last year, allegedly in possession of a freshly harvested rhino horn, now face over a dozen charges involving the poaching of some 22 rhino across the Eastern Cape.
In what could be one of South Africa’s biggest rhino poaching trials to date, Jabulani Ndlovu, Forget Ndlovu and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu were yesterday served with a substantial indictment summing up 13 alleged rhino poaching incidents involving 22 rhino over three years.
Most incidents were crammed into just four months of last year.
The indictment valued the rhino horn harvested in the poaching incidents at more than R11-million.
Each of the Ndlovu men – who are not related – face five charges or alternative charges for each of the 13 incidents, including theft, hunting or killing endangered rhino without a permit, unlawful possession of the tranquilliser opioid agents M99 (also known as Etorfine) and Thiafentanil, and illegal possession of ammunition.
Police say they caught the three men red-handed in a chalet at Grahamstown’s Makana Resort in June last year with 10.27kg of freshly harvested rhino horn valued at close to
R1-million, a bloody saw, a dart gun and M99.
The police raid on the resort happened shortly after a valuable white rhino bull was poached at nearby Buckland’s Game Reserve.
Several cellphones and SIM cards were also seized. The trio were travelling in two rental cars.
During the men’s bail hearing, police hinted they had evidence linking them to more poaching incidents.
They said the link had been made via forensic ballistic comparison of tranquilliser darts found where the rhino were poached.
Other evidence, they said, included traced cellphone activity and movement of rented vehicles.
The high court indictment served on the men yesterday alleges the three men acted in concert as a team of hunters and smugglers to kill the rhino and steal their horns to sell on the black market.
In the summary of substantial facts attached to the indictment, the state alleges the three men were Zimbabwean nationals who had lived in South Africa for some years.
Jabulani and Sikhumbuzo lived in Port Elizabeth and Forget in Mossel Bay.
“Their modus operandi consisted of identifying and targeting a specific game farm or reserve where rhino occurred.”
It charged that Forget, who ironically worked as a game ranger, would take time off his game ranging job to join up with the other two in Port Elizabeth where, despite owning their own cars, they would rent a vehicle.
They would enter the targeted reserves at night and start by darting the animals.
“They would de-horn and leave the animals to their fate to die of blood loss and/or a combination of the injuries and the effects of the tranquillisers.”
The summary says the darts recovered from the various poaching scenes matched a dart gun recovered when the three men were arrested in Grahamstown last year.
“A paint chip originating from the yellow garden saw was also found on one of the scenes in the Cradock district where they repeatedly poached.
“Tracking of their cellphone activities also links the accused to the various incidents by so-called cellphone mapping,” claims the state in the charge sheet.
Some farms were repeatedly targeted.
According to a schedule attached to the indictment the 22 rhino killed in the 13 incidents involved the poaching of:
lOne white rhino on Bucklands Reserve near Grahamstown;
lSix white rhino in two incidents on the Pumba Game Reserves, also near Grahamstown;
lTwo white rhino on Koffylaagte near Jansenville;
lFour white rhino in three separate incidents from Mount Camdeboo farm near Graaff-Reinet;
lTwo white rhino in two separate incidents from Kleindoornberg farm near Cradock;
lThree in two separate incidents on Spekboomberg, also near Cradock;
lThree from Sibuya Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea; and
lOne black rhino from the Great Fish River Reserve near Grahamstown.
Senior state advocate Buks Coetzee yesterday said the matter had been transferred to the Grahamstown High Court and the trial would start on November 30.
The three men are currently out on bail and, accompanied by their attorney Alwyn Griebenow, were served with the indictment at the Grahamstown Regional Court yesterday.