Two suspected rhino poachers have been shot dead by rangers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a day after eight dehorned carcasses were found there, a spokesman said Thursday.
“Our rangers were conducting a routine anti-poaching operation on Wednesday night when they came across suspected poachers,” said Reynold Thakuli.
“A gunfight ensued and two of them were shot dead”.
“Others managed to escape. We suspect they might have fled to Mozambique, as the area where they were ambushed is close to the Mozambican border,” said Thakuli.
The Kruger National Park, one of the country’s top tourist destinations, has been hit hard by poachers, with 252 rhinos killed in 2011 — more than half of the estimated 450 rhinos killed last year nationwide. The 2010 figure was 333.
The country has beefed up security inside the park with soldiers deployed to assist rangers.
Poachers are using high-powered weapons and veterinary tranquilisers to dart rhinos before hacking off their horns.
“The men carried hunting rifles, axes and other weapons,” said Thakuli.
The dramatic spike in rhino killings has been driven by demand for its use in Asian traditional medicine, especially in China and Vietnam, where it is believed to cure cancer despite scientific evidence to the contrary.