Cape Town - SANParks rangers have managed to avert a crisis, says the department of environmental affairs, after suspected poachers inside the Kruger National Park, shot at an SANParks helicopter five times.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa congratulated SANParks and law-enforcement authorities for their sterling work in the incident which took place on 25 May.
The suspects were caught with three firearms, ammunition and poaching equipment. SANParks says quick action by all the team members involved averted a catastrophe and the helicopter managed to land with all the crew on board safe.
"The incident represents a dramatic escalation in our fight against rhino poaching, and is further indication that SANParks and all our law enforcement agencies continue to fight to curb rhino poaching," says Molewa.
South African Police Services will be continuing the investigation into the incident.
The DEA said the apprehension of the suspected poachers was the result of a joint operation by these teams involving the Joint Mission Operations Center (JMOC) launched by President Zuma last year, which has enabled faster reaction time and more proactive operations by the anti-poaching teams inside the Kruger National Park (KNP).
"That the suspects were so swiftly apprehended is a sign that our integrated approach to battling rhino poaching is working," says Molewa.
In the first four months of this year 363 rhinos were poached in South Africa, and of these 232 were killed in the KNP, that has the largest population of the species living in the wild. However, as recently announced, we realised a decline by the end of last year, and in the first quarter of this year.
This downward trend comes despite an increase in the number of incursions by poachers into the KNP - up by 28% in the first four months of this year.
"We retain utmost confidence in law enforcement agencies and our counterparts in Mozambique and elsewhere to successfully stop the activities of the criminal elements behind poaching," Molewa says.
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