The year is not even a month old but already the carcasses of nine rhinos have been found in the Kruger National Park.

“The horns of all nine… were removed and that is a clear indication that they were poached,” said park spokesman Ike Phaahla on Wednesday.

“No arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing. I cannot provide further details as the conservation crime unit follow certain procedures, and once investigations are complete they will compile a report.”

He said the carcasses had been found during a period of two weeks.

On January 8 two white rhinos were shot and killed in the Houtboschrand section of the park.

The managing executive at the park, Abe Sibiya, said indications were that the animals had been killed by a group from Mozambique.

The carcass of a white rhino was found after rangers in the Lower Sabie area saw three suspected poachers and a shoot-out ensued. The three escaped but left behind a bag containing a set of rhino horns and a hunting rifle. Phaahla said he could not provide details of the other six carcasses until investigations had been concluded.

On January 10, the Environmental Affairs Department said that five rhinos had been killed in the country since the beginning of the year.

Three of those were in the Kruger National Park, one was in North West and the other in Mpumalanga. The department said on Wednesday that the figure had not been updated.

Last year, 668 rhinos were poached and 267 arrests were made.

Phaahla said that to step up the fight against poaching, retired major-general Johan Jooste had been put in charge of the conservation unit. Jooste started work on January 7.

“We have given him space and want him to concentrate on his main task, so that we can have an impact on the number of animals poached,” said Phaahla.

He added that the park had offered a R1 million reward for any tips leading to the successful prosecution of a rhino syndicate or its mastermind. – Sapa