A police officer that was allegedly linked to a rhino poaching syndicate in KwaZulu-Natal has been shot and killed in a shootout with police officers in Hluhluwe.
The fatal shoot-out happened on Saturday night and three other suspects were arrested, police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said today.
It occurred after the suspects’ vehicle failed to stop when police ordered it to pull over, leading to a high-speed chase along the R22.
Naidoo said the police anti-poaching team had been on high alert after receiving information that a group of men, travelling in a bakkie from Melmoth, were intending to poach rhinos at Hluhluwe.
“The vehicle fitting the specified description was spotted, but our members’ efforts to try and stop it proved futile after the suspects sped away. This resulted in a high-speed chase and a shootout between the suspects and police.”
Three suspects were injured and arrested after their vehicle veered off the road. They were in hospital under police guard. The fourth suspect was killed.
A .303 hunting rifle with the serial number filed off, .303 live ammunition, a silencer, a 9mm pistol, 9mm live rounds, two axes, a Toyota Hilux bakkie and other smaller items were recovered.
Naidoo said the suspects were likely to face charges of attempted murder, unlawful possession of arms and ammunition and contravention of the National Road Traffic Act.
A source who did not want to be named said the dead man was a police officer from Melmoth. He said he had driven past the scene of the arrest at the bottom circle in the town of Hluhluwe itself after his son reported hearing gunfire.
Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said he was aware of the incident but was unable to comment because it was an SAPS operation. He confirmed that 149 rhinos had been killed in KwaZulu-Natal so far this year, a huge spike over 2016’s total of 162 for the year.