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South Africa: Kruger park rangers, guides arrested over rhino poaching (UPDATES)

Four Kruger National Park employees, including a field ranger and two guides, arrested following the poaching of a white rhino cow and her calf in the park's Pretoriuskop section.

rhino poaching kruger park 2012 02 29Enlarge
White rhinos at the Kruger National Park, South Africa. There has been a massive surge in the number of rhinos being killed by poachers in South Africa, blamed on crime syndicates that sell the horns to buyers in Vietnam and China. (Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost)

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa — Four national parks employees have been arrested in connection with the killing of two rhinos at South Africa's Kruger park, a famous safari destination that has been hard-hit by the rhino poaching crisis. 

The carcasses of a white rhino cow and her calf were discovered Tuesday morning by tourists in the Pretoriuskop section of the park, where 11 rhinos have been killed since the start of 2012. The animals' horns had been removed.

GlobalPost In Depth series: Last Rhino Standing: South Africa's war to save the rhino 

The four South African National Parks (SAN Parks) staff members were arrested hours after the dead rhinos were discovered, following an investigation by rangers and South African police that involved the specialized K9 Unit for Endangered Species.

SAN Parks has been trying desperately to stop the poaching epidemic, hiring extra rangers at Kruger park and having South African soldiers patrol key areas. But so far the problem has only increased, with 2012 on track to be the worst year yet for poaching.

The poaching is said to increase when the moon is waxing, as it is now, with the bright moonlight helping poachers to target rhinos overnight.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Kruger Park rangers strike triggers rhino poaching fears

The latest dead rhinos were found along the Napi Boulders Loop by tourists traveling in an open-air safari vehicle, SAN Parks said in a statement. Rangers and police were alerted, and rushed to the scene.

One of the employees arrested is a field ranger who is also involved in a strike against SAN Parks. Another of the suspects in a traffic cop at the park, while the other two are said to be guides, according to Kruger park staff.

A total of 80 rhinos have been lost to poaching in South Africa since the start of the year, including 43 in the Kruger park.

"It is a very sad day for South Africa to find out that the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched as far as to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage" said David Mabunda, chief executive of SAN Parks.

"I am personally saddened to discover that some of our own would so callously abuse the confidence and faith that we have entrusted upon them, he said.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa's Kruger park battles rhino poaching (VIDEO)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/south-africa/120229/rhino-poaching-kruger-park-sanparks-officials-arrested