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Kruger rhino poaching might have been inside job

Police say the men involved were wearing Mozambican military and SANparks uniforms.

White rhino. Picture: Big Game Parks.

JOHANNESBURG - Limpopo police are investigating whether the arrest of a gang of suspected rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park was an inside job.

One man was killed during a shootout with SANpark rangers on Saturday while another was wounded.

A third suspect will appear in court on charges including attempted rhino poaching and trespassing.

The police's Hangwani Mulaudzi says the man who died was in Mozambican military gear while the other two were wearing SANparks uniforms.

"We are looking at both ways, internally and externally, maybe there might be people who might have given them these uniforms. So it's an intensive investigation to ascertain exactly where they got the uniform from, including the one from Mozambique."

'PRIVATISATION OF RHINOS'

The Kruger National Park is inviting bids for rhinos under a plan to move 500 of the animals to safety to counter a wave of poaching for their horns, highly prized in some Asian countries as a sign of wealth.

Private ranchers own around 5,000 of South Africa's 20,000 rhinos, part of a thriving game farming industry in Africa's most advanced economy that caters to eco-tourism and hunting.

The government is now turning to the private sector because the Kruger National Park has become the main poaching ground for the animals.

More than 1,000 were poached in South Africa last year, three times the tally in 2010, to meet soaring demand for rhino horn which is erroneously thought to be medicine in fast-growing economies such as China and Vietnam.

'KINGPIN' BEHIND BARS

The alleged kingpin behind a multimillion rand rhino poaching syndicate was remanded in custody in September.

North West businessman Hugo Ras was arrested along with nine other people earlier this month in connection with a spate of poaching incidents across the country.

A Hawks officer, a pilot and an attorney are among those implicated in the syndicate which has illegally acquired an estimated R22 million worth of rhino horns.

In addition to killing rhino, the 10 are also accused of stealing confiscated horns poached by other groups.

Ras's legal representatives told the Pretoria Magistrates Court that he would not proceed with a bail application.

His wife and three other accused opted to apply for bail.

Animal rights activists have called for the group to remain behind bars.

Police also seized an illegal firearm and scheduled veterinary drugs when they arrested Ras.

His advocate told the court the firearm was a rusted antique.

He also said Ras previously owned a game farm, where the medicines seized were used for the live capture and transfer of animals.

The professional hunter has several previous convictions related to nature conservation transgressions.

In a separate incident in 2011, Ras was granted bail in the same court.

In 2004, he was charged with murder after a lion on his game farm killed an employee.

It is believed Ras is helping police with further investigations.

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