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Three Suspected Rhino Poachers Killed in South Africa

Officials in South Africa say three suspected rhino poachers have been killed in a shootout with park rangers.

A spokesman for South Africa's largest wildlife preserve, Kruger National Park, says park rangers came across the three men late Wednesday, and shooting ensued.

The poachers were reportedly from Mozambique, which borders the reserve, and has become the home to criminal syndicates eager to cash in on the black market trade of rhino horns.

According to government figures released this week, 188 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year, most of them in Kruger.

Last year, a record 668 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa. That number was up nearly 50 percent from 2011 and double the number killed in 2010.



Authorities have arrested more than 60 people since the beginning of this year for rhino poaching and related activities.

The South African government is attempting to battle rhino poaching by using soldiers and surveillance aircraft, but strong demand for rhino horns in places like Vietnam and China has fueled high prices.

The rhino horn is highly prized in those countries for alleged but unproven medicinal purposes.

South Africa is home to virtually the entire population of white rhino, more than 18,000, and about 40 percent of Africa's black rhino population, which numbers around 5,000.

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