Rhino conservationists say govt-linked poachers must be dealt with

Dehorned white rhino
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The Private Association of Rhino Conservation Reserves says the involvement of government officials in poaching-related criminal activities should be dealt with swiftly with harsh consequences.

This comes as a long-serving conservation official in the North West, who was arrested and charged with alleged poaching offences in 2021, has been reinstated by the provincial Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism.

Mxolisi Stephen Maqoboza, together with three other co-accused, including known game traders and businessmen Abraham Schalk Steyn and Dawie Groenewald, are facing 8 counts linked to the dehorning of rhinos at a game farm in the Northern Cape and the transportation of their horns from there, through North West to Mpumalanga without the required permits.

It is a tale of alleged brazen criminality. Mxolisi Stephen Maqoboza was arrested and in October 2021 appeared in the Mmabatho Magistrates Court in the North West with his co-accused Wells Mashilo.

The National Director of Public Prosecution later centralised their case to be tried at a regional court in Mpumalanga together with two other co-accused who had allegedly arranged for the storage of the horns in Mpumalanga and also allegedly met and negotiated prices for the sale of the rhino horns.

While, all accused including Maqoboza, were released on bail with conditions including not interfering with state witnesses Maqoboza’s dismissal from the department was short-lived.

Spokesperson for the Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation, and Tourism, Jeremiah Matebesi says, “Mr Stephen Mxolisi Maqoboza was arrested in 2021 for the unlawful issuing of rhino horn permits. The Department then constituted an internal hearing which led to his dismissal. He then appealed the sanction of dismissal in terms of the public service coordinating bargaining council. He was successful in his appeal and was reinstated but with a demoting and final written warning.”

The Department remains mum on other brazen poaching-related cases involving Maqoboza that were centralized in Lichtenburg where he is implicated in alleged fraud and the illegal dehorning of five rhinos in 2018 whose horns later mysteriously disappeared with no trace.

Rhino Conservationists such as Glen Phillips of the Private Association of Rhino Conservation Reserves say the alleged entanglement in poaching-related criminality of those entrusted with upholding bio-diversity and conservation regulations is unacceptable.

“When it comes to matters endangering our wildlife heritage, criminal involvement from within our government circles should be dealt with swiftly and with harsh consequences. Slow processes, apathy, and effectiveness in some quarters especially when it comes to rhino-related matters endanger the lives of our rangers, enable further crimes to be committed and affect the morale of all involved and most importantly amongst the gross wasteful expenditure,” says Glenn Phillips of the Private Association of Rhino Conservation Reserves.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority, the case of Maqoboza and his three co-accused in Mpumalanga is expected back in court on 19 June, and a summons will be issued for his case in Lichtenburg, North West, and a date for his appearance in court is yet to be communicated.