Elephants kill suspected poacher at South African national park

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FILE: Elephants are pictured in Kruger National Park on February 6, 2013 in Skukuza, South Africa. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – A suspected rhinoceros poacher died Saturday at Kruger National Park in South Africa after being trampled by a herd of breeding elephants, according to park officials.

The suspected poacher was fleeing from park rangers at the time and died before any animals were killed.

South African National Parks (SANPark) rangers said in a statement that they arrested a second suspect, who was found with a rifle and an axe, common poaching tools. A third suspect managed to get away.

“It has been a successful weekend in the fight to keep our rhinos alive in the park, we are delighted with our anti-poaching teams who were able to arrest suspects before any animal was killed,” said Gareth Coleman, the managing executive of Kruger National Park, in a statement. The actions are a morale booster for our anti-poaching teams and conservation efforts.”

The suspect in custody told rangers about their encounter with the elephant herd, but said he wasn’t sure if the other members of his group got away. Park officials told the BBC in a statement that they “discovered his accomplice badly trampled and who had unfortunately succumbed to his injuries.” Officials said the third suspect who managed to escape is believed to have suffered an eye injury.

The following day, SANPark rangers used aerial surveillance and K-9s to track a group of three suspected poachers under extreme heat. All three were arrested and rangers said that they seized a high caliber hunting rifle, poaching equipment and ammunition.

The rhino population in Kruger National Park has fallen from more than 10,000 in 2010 to less than 4,000, National Geographic reported earlier this year.

“We hope the arrests send a strong message to poachers that we are determined to stop them in their tracks within the Park,” Coleman said. “SANParks is committed to working harder with law enforcement agencies and communities outside the Park to intensify efforts to crack the criminal syndicates driving these crimes.”

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