Zuma sends condolences to KNP soldiers' families

President Jacob Zuma has sent his condolences to the families of the soldiers who died in the Kruger.

President Jacob Zuma has sent his condolences to the families of the five soldiers who died in a helicopter in the Kruger. Picture: SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma on Sunday sent his condolences to the families of the five soldiers who died in a helicopter crash last night.

It is understood the aircraft was on a scheduled aerial patrol of the Kruger National Park at the time of the incident. The patrols form part of the anti-rhino poaching initiative 'Operation Rhino'.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, the Department of Defence said earlier.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said: "On behalf of government and the entire nation, we wish to express our sincere condolences to the families of these five soldiers and may their souls rest in peace."

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) has, meanwhile, said it has been a black week for the SA military.

Spokesperson Pikkie Greeff sent his condolences and said military personnel put their lives in danger in order to help with wildlife conservation - he urged the nation to never forget that.

"We call on the nation to never forget the memory of the sacrifices that our soldiers make."

On Wednesday, three suspected poachers were killed in a shoot-out with rangers in the vast Kruger, where the killing of the animals has become rampant.

So far this year, 188 rhinos have been poached in South Africa, 135 in Kruger alone, according to government figures released this week.

In 2012, 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa, a 50 percent rise on the previous year and double the number killed illegally in 2010.

Surging demand from newly affluent consumers in Vietnam and China, where rhino horn is highly prized for medicinal purposes, is behind the onslaught.

South Africa hosts most of the world's white rhino - over 18,000 - and about 40 percent of the rarer black rhino.

Many of the poachers in Kruger come from poor villages in neighbouring Mozambique. Elsewhere in Africa, the poaching of elephants for their ivory has also been on the rise.