Ex-soldier 'used silencers to poach rhino'

Ex-soldier 'used silencers to poach rhino'

The Nelspruit Regional Court has heard how a former South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldier facing several counts relating to illegal activities in the Kruger National Park allegedly poached rhino using silencers.


The former soldier, Leonard Mashego, appeared alongside his co-accused, Michael Sithole, yesterday.

The two accused were arrested after a shoot-out involving rangers in the Bristol area of the Kruger National Park in September 2010.

The two accused face five counts of performing illegal activities in the game reserve, five of restricted activity involving a threatened species, four of possession of illegal firearms and four of illegal possession of ammunition.

They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

They were allegedly found in possession of two rhino horns, two firearms and ammunition shortly after a rhino carcass was discovered in the Kruger Park with its horn removed.

"During the incidents, silencers were used on their weapons, which made it difficult for rangers to hear and track them. Few rangers were patrolling the park at the time," said State prosecutor Isbet Erwee, after their defence applied for the charges to be dropped.

Erwee said the defence had also claimed that Mashego was looking for his cattle at the time and Sithole was searching for herbs.

"Yet evidence from the ranger said no herbs had been found on Sithole. They had, however, found rhino horns and Mashego had the rifle in his possession," she said.

Erwee said five cartridges used from .303 and .306 rifles seized from the two accused were collected at the crime scene.

"The cartridges were fired from the two accused's firearms. They were collected by the rangers in a position facing the dehorned rhino. Five more cartridges were also collected after the June 2010 crime scene, where a rhino was dehorned. Evidence shows the firearms were aimed at the animal," she said.

Erwee said Mashego claimed negligent loss of his firearm, saying it was stolen.

"The State is of the opinion he would use this in his defence, but he never reported the firearm was stolen," she said.

Erwee said evidence revealed that a knife was used in dehorning the rhino. This corroborated with counts six, 15 and 23 on their charge sheets, after confirmation that the horns were removed with a knife.

"A knife was found inside their bag. No axe or saw was found," she said.

Mashego was found inside the park shortly after the rangers came across a dehorned rhino carcass. Sithole was on the other side of the fence, where he claimed he was looking for cattle.

Magistrate André Geldenhuys postponed the case to October 15 for judgment.

Meanwhile, today thousands of people worldwide are celebrating World Rhino Day it's world with the aim to raise awareness about the scourge of rhino poaching. 

(File photo: Gallo Images)

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