A two man SANParks Ranger patrol turned into a full scale fire fight on Saturday night when they made contact with a group of armed suspected poachers in the Letaba part of Kruger National Park.
Three of the armed suspected poachers were fatally wounded, one was seriously injured and is receiving medical care but his condition has been described as critical. The other suspect managed to escape into Mozambique.
Two heavy caliber hunting rifles, an AK47 assault rifle, a pistol and an assortment of ammunition were confiscated. A posterior rhino horn and other poaching related equipment was also recovered.
“This was a fierce fire fight in which our two rangers did very well to hold their nerve and prevail. All indications were that the poaching group of five were well trained, well armed and were attired in battle camouflage fatigues. The sheer number, equipment and tactics presented by the poaching group indicated their aggressive intent. Conditions are currently really difficult and urgent cooperation from our counterparts in Mozambique to ensure stability in the KNP is required,” Wanda Mkutshulwa SANParks Head of Communications elaborated.
Earlier on in the week, Mahlangeni rangers made contact with another group of armed suspected poachers and one of the suspects was fatally wounded. “These incidents now bring the number of armed contacts between the KNP Task Force and suspected rhino poachers to five in the last week. It is only the sheer dedication, commitment and training of our rangers that has prevented any injuries or fatalities on our side” said Mkutshulwa.
“We have seen an escalation of incursions north of the Olifants River towards the border with Zimbabwe. This is a vast area covered by SANParks rangers alone, as the military has not deployed in this area as yet but is expected to do so soon.
Poachers have been taking advantage of this situation, however, with SANParks having changed its strategy to the current military command deployment we have put special focus and emphasis on these areas and are beginning to see results, though they are not significant at this stage,” said Mkutshulwa.
The Kruger National Park had lost 61 of the total 82 rhinos lost to poaching in the whole of South Africa in 2013.