Mbombela - Three poachers who claimed they were framed, have been found guilty of illegally hunting in the Kruger National Park.
Sifiso Lephoko, 32, David Mawelele, 36, and Daniel Dlamini, 35, all from Matsulu outside Mbombela, were convicted when they appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Tuesday.
The three were arrested on November 15 2009, after they were seen shooting at three rhinos in the Kruger.
They had pleaded not guilty to trespassing, carrying out a restricted activity in the Kruger National Park and possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition.
A hunting rifle, three rounds of live ammunition, an axe, a butcher knife and a bag with a protected plant were confiscated during their arrest.
Magistrate Nomaswazi Shabangu said although no rhino horn or carcass was found to link them to rhino poaching, evidence by five rangers proved beyond reasonable doubt they were guilty of illegal hunting.
She dismissed their claims that they were given access to the park by a person identified as Costa Magongo, who they said worked in the park.
“You were well aware you were trespassing. You were well aware that accused one carried a rifle. He first testified it was given to him by Magongo and later changed the statement, saying it was planted on him by the rangers,” Magistrate Shabangu continued.
Magistrate Shabangu found Lephoko guilty on one count of trespassing in the Kruger, five counts of carrying out a restricted activity in the Kruger and one count of possession of an illegal firearm and possession of ammunition.
Mawelele and Dlamini were each convicted on one count of trespassing and five counts of carrying out a restricted activity in the Kruger.
State prosecutor Isbet Erwee asked the court to postpone the case to allow her to prove to the court that Mawelele has a previous conviction on similar charges.
The case was postponed to July 14 for the records to be presented in court.