Poachers open fire on S.African helicopter in Kruger Park

Johannesburg (AFP) –


Poachers in South Africa's Kruger Park opened fire on a patrol helicopter, officials said Thursday, describing the attack as a "dramatic escalation" in the battle over rhinos hunted for their horns.

The poachers shot five times at the South African National Parks' helicopter that was part of an operation to crack down on poaching in the southern part of Kruger where rhinos have been heavily targeted.

"Quick action by all the team members involved averted a catastrophe and the helicopter managed to land with all the crew on board safe," the department of environmental affairs said in statement.

"Four poachers have been arrested and three firearms, ammunition and poaching equipment recovered."

The incident on Wednesday came after 363 rhinos were poached in South Africa in the first four months of this year, 232 of which were killed in Kruger National Park.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails.

But it is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases -- as well as an aphrodisiac -- in Vietnam and China.

Nearly 1,200 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2015 in another year of carnage by poachers driven by the soaring price of horn.

That compared to fewer than 100 rhinos poached in 2008.