Joint efforts of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and game rangers have resulted in 18 suspects being arrested in Skhukuza, Hluhluwe, Barberton, KwaMsane, Nongoma and Gluckstadt.
Five suspects were found guilty of poaching and sentenced to a collective 30 years and nine months imprisonment. One suspect was fatally wounded during arrest operations.
Police recovered two rhino horns, eight unlicensed firearms, ammunition, two silencers, a scope, an axe, a knife, two cell phones an two motor vehicles.
"Most of the suspects have since appeared in various courts on charges of unlawful possession of arms and ammunition, possession of dangerous weapon, trespassing, hunting a protected animal, kidnapping, assault, possession of rhino horns and/or possession of suspected stolen properties," police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said on Friday.
Five other accused were found guilty and sentenced in the Skhukuza Regional Court this week. Maphoyisa Mahlaule was found guilty of hunting a protected animal, possession of unlicensed firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition and trespassing. He was sentenced to an effective 20 years imprisonment.
Three accused -- Dumisani Mathebula, Paul Julio Mhibiri and Paul Ubisi -- were convicted and sentenced to two years for trespassing, two years for possession of an unlicensed firearm, three years for possession of firearm with intent to commit a crime, four years for conspiracy to commit a crime, 18 months for unlawful possession of ammunition and three months for illegal immigration.
Bukani Mbele was found guilty and convicted for illegal hunting and possession of rhino horns. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment, three years for each case.
"The partnership of the police and park rangers in this continuing challenge is vital and has borne results once again," said Naidoo.
Men convicted of armed robbery, murder
Meanwhile, the Temba High Court on Wednesday sentenced Paul Sello Mashapa (37), Joseph Vusi Mdluli (36) and Sphiwe Matlala (35) to 25 years imprisonment without an option of a fine after they were found guilty of armed robbery, murder and rape.
The trio was arrested by the Hawks in November 2006 in Winterveldt after they hijacked a vehicle in Temba that was transporting two school girls.
The North West Provincial Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, Major General Linda Mbana, applauded the investigating officers for thoroughly investigating the case and attaining the convictions.
"We do not only apprehend suspects but it is our duty to ensure that justice is served," said Mbana.