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Pretoria - Water and Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, has welcomed the recent arrests and the prosecution of individuals linked to rhino poaching.

The minister said on Thursday the handing down of stiffer sentences to poachers and the seizure of assets of poaching accused should serve as a message to potential poachers that everything possible will be done to ensure the protection of South Africa’s rhino population.

In the past week, five rhino have been poached in South Africa. Four rhino were poached in the Kruger National Park, and one in North West.

Limpopo police said the horns of the one rhino had been removed, while the other rhino survived after being shot twice. Its horns were not removed.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, this brings the number of rhino killed for their horns since the beginning of the year to 232.

Limpopo police arrested two men in Naboomspruit and another four in Soshanguve during investigations into the poaching of a rhino and wounding of another at the Tamboti Floodland Farm earlier this month. Two AK47 assault rifles were among the items recovered during the arrests.

The six appeared in court yesterday and are expected to apply for bail in the Mokopane Magistrate’s Court on April 29.

The arrests come two weeks after the theft of 66 rhino horns from a private stockpile near Roedtan in Limpopo. No arrests have yet been made in connection with the case.

A total of 66 people have been arrested since the beginning of the year for rhino poaching and related activities.

The minister also welcomed successes recently achieved in the courts.

Two men were sentenced by the Phalaborwa Regional Court to 15 years in prison each after being caught poaching a rhino on a private game farm near Hoedspruit in 2011.

The men were caught by local rangers only minutes after cutting the horns from a rhino they had shot. They were found in possession of the horns.

In a separate incident, the North Gauteng High Court granted a preservation of assets order to the National Prosecuting Authority and the Asset Forfeiture Unit under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act against a suspected rhino poaching ring leader Joseph Nyalunga.

Nyalunga, a former policeman, is facing charges in the Middelburg Regional Court.

The department said he was arrested during an undercover operation on March 2 during which police recovered more than R5 million stashed in a metal coffer in the garage.

The order was granted on the basis that the money represented the proceeds of unlawful activities, or was used to commit offences. The Asset Forfeiture Unit had last year seized assets worth more than R3.2 million from the accused.

Molewa has urged all South Africans to work with law enforcement agencies to thwart on-going poaching.

South Africans can report incidents of poaching and tip-offs to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or Crime-Line on 32211. –