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Pretoria - Three suspected rhino poachers were killed during a shootout with rangers at the Kruger National Park, the South African National Parks (SANParks) said.

SANParks said in a statement that four suspected poachers were arrested while on their way to Mjejane, a SANParks contractual park adjacent to the Malelane section of the KNP, on Saturday.

“During the operation, a hunting rifle, ammunition as well as other poaching related equipment were recovered,” it said.

Sixty-one of the total 82 rhinos lost to poaching in the whole country this year were from the Kruger National Park.

In Saturday’s dramatic events, 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 calibre hunting rifles, an AK47 assault rifle, a pistol and an assortment of ammunition were confiscated. A posterior rhino horn and other poaching related equipment were also recovered, SANParks said.

“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 six were well trained, well-armed and were attired in battle camouflage fatigues.”

Earlier in the week, Mahlangeni rangers made contact with another group of armed suspected poachers and one of the suspects was killed.

“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,” read the statement. –