Five rhino poachers shot dead
Buks Viljoen, Beeld
Mbombela - Five rhino poachers have been shot dead in the Kruger National Park since Saturday.
Three of them were shot dead on Tuesday morning shortly after 06:00 during a shoot-out with rangers in the Pretoriuskop area.
The other two were shot dead on Saturday in the north of the game park, near the Mozambique border. Three of their accomplices fled over the border fence.
According to information obtained confidentially by Beeld, no fewer than ten poachers have been killed in the park over the past five months.
The latest incident was sparked when rangers heard a shot being fired between Pretoriuskop and the Phabeni gate on Tuesday morning.
They discovered a trail of blood, presumably that of an injured rhino, and followed it.
They found three suspected poachers, one of whom was armed with a .303 rifle.
The poachers were apparently also following the trail of blood.
Shot during skirmish
Shots were fired at the rangers when they tried to arrest the poachers. During the ensuing skirmish, all three suspects were shot dead.
Among other things, torches, pangas and bloodied axes were found in their possession.
The rangers are still searching for the injured animal.
In another incident on Saturday morning in the Lower Sabie area, five poachers were discovered a few kilometres from the Mozambique border as they were presumably on their way back to Mozambique.
Two of them were shot dead during the ensuing shoot-out and the other three fled across the border.
Two rhino horns, and a .458 hunting rifle were found with the dead poachers.
In 2010 no fewer than 333 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. Of that number, 323 were white rhinos and 10 were black rhinos.
Last year 146 rhinos were shot in the Kruger National Park.
R175 000 per horn
Over the past few months the trend has increasingly been to poach rhinos in the north of the game park, near the Mozambique border.
It's easier for the poachers to shoot the animals there and then slip across the border.
Poachers are apparently also paid far more for the rhino horns in Mozambique, a source who prefers to remain anonymous told Beeld.
In South Africa, a poacher is reportedly paid between R25 000 and R30 000 for a horn, while in Mozambique payments can reach up to R25 000 per kilogram.
An adult rhino's horn weighs about 7kg.
Oubaas Coetzer, police spokesperson at Skukuza, confirmed the two shooting incidents in which five poachers were shot dead.
He says 68 poachers have been caught in the game park over the past 12 months.
He referred all other questions about poaching to SANParks.
Five this year
Reynold Thakhuli, spokesperson for SANParks, says the onslaught against rhinos in the game park is growing by the day.
With the new year only 11 days old, five rhinos have already been poached in South Africa. Two of these were in the Kruger Park.
Information obtained confidentially says several rangers have received death threats over the past year.
In at least two cases, messages were found with the carcasses of dead rhinos.
Rangers apparently also received SMSes and messages on their cellphones.
In one case, a letter was left on the carcass, and in another, the death threat was written in the ground near the carcass.