Two suspected rhino poachers were killed and two arrested at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in Zululand.
Musa Mntambo, spokesman for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said the incident happened around 7pm on Wednesday.
“The Durban Organised Crime and Nyathi anti-poaching unit spotted four intruders and a shootout took place immediately,” he said.
“Two of the intruders were killed as a result.”
The men had on them an axe, a hunting rifle with a silencer and knives.
“With Wednesday’s arrest, we have now arrested eight people this year for rhino poaching, and the number of rhinos poached this year stands at eight,” Mntambo said.
All four suspects were from Mozambique and were suspected of being linked to numerous rhino-poaching incidents in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said: “It is alleged that a group of unknown men entered the Phinda game reserve. When police officers approached them a shoot-out ensued, resulting in two suspects dying.
“Two other suspects, aged 40 and 42, were later arrested. An unlicensed firearm, axe and knife believed to be used in poaching were found on the deceased.”
Charges of illegal poaching and possession of an unlicensed firearm were opened by the police in Jozini. The suspects will appear in the Ubombo Magistrate’s Court soon.
Provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, said: “It is very important that we deal with these crimes by conducting such multi-disciplinary operations as police alone cannot win this battle. We will continue to hold such operations to (stop) syndicates that trade in our endangered species.”
Kevin Pretorius, the regional director of &Beyond, the holiday group that manages Phinda game reserve, said: “The onslaught facing our rhino population is dire, with 86 rhino killed last month alone.
“This relentless tide of poaching continues and thankfully there are dedicated, courageous people that are willing to sacrifice so much in order to save our natural heritage.”