Maputo — The Mozambican police have detained five Chinese citizens in possession of two large calibre firearms, of the type used to kill large mammals such as rhinoceros or elephants.
According to a report in Monday's issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, the five were arrested in the Sabie administrative post, in the southern district of Moamba.
In addition to the high-powered rifles, they were carrying a pistol and the bodies of three small animals (an antelope, a rabbit and a wildcat) that they had just killed.
The pistol had a licence - but it was forged. The document authorizing one of the group to carry the gun was dated 6 June 2015, a date that is still in the future. The police also seized the vehicle used by the Chinese poachers and two walkie-talkie radios.
“We became aware of the poachers through denunciations by local people and wardens in the area, and we immediately sent a team there”, the spokesperson for the Maputo Provincial Police Command, Emidio Mabunda, told reporters.
Sabie is not far from the South African border, and Mabunda suspected that the poachers were heading for South Africa with the intention of hunting prey larger than rabbits or antelopes.
Meanwhile, the Maputo provincial police command has denied that any policemen are among the six people arrested in connection with the theft of 12 rhino horns from a state warehouse on 22 May.
The 12 horns were part of the largest haul of illicit wildlife products in Mozambican history. The police seized 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns from a house in the southern city of Matola on 12 May, and arrested two Chinese citizens in connection with the attempt to smuggle these goods out of the country.
But less than a fortnight later 12 of the horns had vanished, replaced by replicas made out of cattle horns. When he admitted the theft last Wednesday, Mabunda declined to say whether any of the six people detained were police officers.
But now Mabunda claims that two of the detainees are the people who made the replicas while the other four are not members of the police but “state functionaries”. He did not reveal for which state bodies they worked.
The 12 horns are still missing, but Mabunda pledged that if the police recover them, “society will be informed”.
The remaining 53 horns and the ivory are being kept in the same warehouse, but Mabunda said security has been stepped up. The material is being guarded by a “joint force” which includes the police.
“We have entrusted it to other agents”, he added, “and we want to guarantee that thus will not happen again”.