6975 Phila the black rhino who survived two separate attacks by rhino poachers has been living at the Johannesburg Zoo for three months. Parktown north, Johannesburg. 250111 - Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Four government wildlife staff – including a game ranger and a traffic policeman – have been arrested for killing rhinos in the Kruger National Park, amid a strike by game rangers and a rocketing poaching rate which is likely to push SA’s 2012 rhino death toll to record levels.

The SA National Parks (SANParks) authority confirmed on Wednesday that four staff had been arrested after tourists spotted the hornless carcasses of two white rhinos in the Pretoriuskop section of the park.

It emerged that the rhinos had just been shot and de-horned by SANParks staff in a section of the park where at least 11 others had been killed in the past month.

SANParks acknowledged that its own staff could be part of a poaching ring responsible for the killings.

Latest statistics show that at least 80 rhinos have been poached nationwide in the first two months of the year.

Based on this rate, it is likely that at least 500 rhinos will die before the end of the year, unless the slaughter is stopped.

The 80 killings in two months this year are equivalent to the total number of rhino killed nationwide in 2008. Last year, the deaths soared to 448.

On Wednesday, SANParks chief executive David Mabunda expressed regret that “some of our own would so callously abuse the confidence and faith that we have entrusted upon them”.

“It is a very sad day for South Africa to find out that the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched so far to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage,” he said.

“It has been revealed that one of the suspects, a field ranger, is one of the employees who have embarked on a strike… Another one of the suspects is a member of the protection services unit (a traffic policeman) and is the second traffic policeman in the park to be arrested in connection with rhino poaching activities.”

Meanwhile, allegations of negligence and dishonesty emerged in the Pretoria Regional Court on Wednesday in the trial of a former police forensic science administration clerk allegedly linked to the theft of four rhino horns, reports Yolande du Preez.

Some of the allegations came to light during testimony by a Polokwane organised crime unit detective, testifying in the trial of former administration clerk Azariel Sholo Matjila.

Matjila, who was stationed in the Silverton Forensic Science laboratory’s technical residue analysis section in Pretoria, is facing charges of theft and defeating and obstructing justice.

Matjila is alleged to have removed the horns from the laboratory in August 2009 and replaced them with fake ones cast from moulds made from an elephant tusk.

The case was postponed to April. - The Mercury