Johannesburg - A policeman allegedly linked to a rhino poaching syndicate in KwaZulu-Natal has been shot and killed in a shootout with police officers in Hluhluwe over the weekend.The fatal shootout happened on Saturday night and three other suspects were arrested, said police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo. It occurred after the suspects’ vehicle failed to stop when police ordered it to pull over, leading to a high-speed chase along the R22.Naidoo said the police's anti-poaching team had been on high alert after receiving information that a group of men, travelling in a bakkie from Melmoth, were intending to poach rhinos at Hluhluwe. "The vehicle fitting the specified description was spotted, but our members’ efforts to try and stop it proved futile after the suspects sped away. This resulted in a high-speed chase, and a shootout between the suspects and police."Three suspects were injured and arrested after their vehicle veered off the road. They were in hospital under police guard. The fourth suspect was killed.A .303 hunting rifle with the serial number filed off, .303 live ammunition, a silencer, a 9mm pistol, 9mm live rounds, two axes, a Toyota Hilux bakkie, and other smaller implements were recovered.Naidoo said the suspects were likely to face charges of attempted murder, unlawful possession of arms and ammunition, and contravention of the National Road Traffic Act.Gunshots reportedAccording to a source who did not want to be named, the dead man was a police officer from Melmoth.The source told News24 that he had driven past the scene of the arrest at the bottom circle in the town of Hluhluwe itself after his son reported the sounds of gunfire."He sent me an SMS around 21:00, saying it sounded like fireworks. I immediately contacted one of the security groups I am a member of, and said I was concerned because the sounds [of] gunshots had been reported to me."I also contacted a police team member who confirmed that there had been a shooting incident and that the first gun shots were reportedly fired near the Gazebo gas station, which is near the railway crossing outside town. It was not five minutes later when I heard another volley of gun shots.""I immediately jumped in my vehicle and drove past the location where the first incident was reported and noticed skid marks. I believe the suspects sped off and were arrested in the town itself, where there was another shootout near the traffic circle at the bottom of town."Spike in poaching in KZNEzemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo told News24 he was aware of the incident, but was unable to comment because it was a SAPS operation.He confirmed that 149 rhinos had been killed in KwaZulu-Natal so far this year, which represents a massive spike over 2016's total of 162 for the year.By comparison, in the 12 month period of 2015, rhino poachers killed 115 rhinos in the province.At her second national briefing on the rhino poaching crisis, this year, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said 529 rhinos had been killed to date this year, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos.A total of 359 alleged poachers and traffickers had been arrested nationally in the reporting period, she said."The threat of poaching is now a challenge to other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has begun strengthening its response capacity as an anti-poaching unit in line with the existing Mission Area Joint Operational Centre (MAJOC). "As part of the plan, they are now in the process of setting up an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) to ensure priority allocation of resources to where it matters most," Molewa said.