Rhino poachers back in Pretoria
Five heavily armed suspected rhinopoachers were arrested after a gun battle in the heart of greater Pretoria, in Rietvlei Nature Reserve.
One of the suspects was out on bail after being charged with rhino poaching in Potchefstroom earlier this year.
The suspects were found in possession of an assortment of hunting rifles, and handguns fitted with silencers.
Ballistic analysis has linked the weapons to the killing of two rhinos in Dinokeng Nature Reserve, north of Pretoria, two months ago.
Police from the Pretoria Flying Squad and Pretoria Dog Unit, acting on a tip-off from the Hawks, spotted the suspects as they stopped next to Rietvlei Nature Reserve on Sunday night.
The officers had been given a description of their vehicles, a Toyota Hilux and a Toyota Corolla - both of which are believed to have been stolen.
Three years ago, two rhinos were killed in Rietvlei Nature Reserve by poachers operating from helicopters.
Following the killings, the City of Tshwane-run park embarked on a mass dehorning campaign in which all 13 of its rhinos were dehorned yet again in July this year.
Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said the suspects were believed to be part of a large poaching syndicate.
"The men, who were arrested after a shoot-out, have been charged for being in possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. The police recovered two .458 hunting rifles fitted with silencers, and a 9mm pistol and ammunition. An axe, which [it is believed] was to be used to chop off the horns, [and] cellphones, were also seized," he said.
A City of Tshwane source said game wardens had helped the police track the suspects in the park.He said it was believed that the suspects had planned to kill all 13 of the park's rhino.
"With the weapons and silencers, they would have been able to kill all the rhino without anyone knowing anything until it was too late.
"If they had killed the rhinos, they would have escaped with only a few centimetres of horn because they had recently been dehorned ... it shows how desperate these people are."