File picture: AFP

Durban - Two suspected rhino poachers have been shot dead in a clash with police in the Phinda Game Reserve near Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal police said on Thursday.

Captain Thulani Zwane said two others were arrested.

Around 6.15pm on Wednesday, a special task force, the Durban organised crime unit and the Nyathi anti-poaching unit, heard of a group of men that entered the game reserve.

“It is alleged that a group of unknown men entered the Phinda Game Reserve. When the members were approaching them a shoot-out ensued resulting in two suspects fatally wounded,” Zwane said in a statement.

“Two other suspects aged 40 and 42 were later arrested. An unlicensed firearm, axe and knife believed to be used in poaching were found from the deceased suspects.”

Zwane said the recovered firearm would be sent for ballistic tests to ascertain if it was used in a crime in the country.

He said the two men were expected to appear in the Ubombo Magistrate's Court soon on charges of illegal poaching and possession of an unlicensed firearm.

Provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Mmamonnye Ngobeni said it was important to deal with such crimes with multi-disciplinary operations because the police could not win the battle alone.

“We will continue to hold such operations in future to dismantle syndicates that trade in our endangered species,” she said in a statement.