South Africa: Kruger Park rangers strike triggers rhino poaching fears

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Rangers at South Africa's Kruger National Park, a major safari destination that is fighting an increasingly brutal battle with rhino poachers, have gone on an indefinite strike.

South Africa National Parks (SAN Parks) officials said that 181 of Kruger's 400 rangers went on strike Friday over salary issues. 

Spokesman William Mabasa said he feared that poachers might try to take advantage of the decreased numbers of rangers. 

"It is indeed unfortunate that our rangers have decided to go on strike at the time when we are at the peak of our war against rhino poachers," Mabasa said in a statement. "These are the men and women that we rely on in our fight against the poachers."

Last year, a record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa, including 252 rhinos killed at Kruger park.

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

Police, soldiers and volunteer rangers are helping to protect the park during the strike. Retired rangers are being brought back to work.

Mabasa said there have been no reported rhino poaching incidents at Kruger since the strike began on Feb. 3, and tourism at the park has not been affected.

The past few years have seen a dramatic rise in rhino poaching, fueled by growing demand for rhinoceros horns in Vietnam and China where they are used to cure cancer, headaches and fever, although experts say the horns have absolutely no medicinal value.

In January, Kruger park rangers found eight dehorned rhino carcasses in the park in just one day. Two suspected poachers, said to be from Mozambique, were killed in a shoot out.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Rhino poachers from Mozambique jailed for 25 years

On Monday, South African and Mozambican officials met in Pretoria to work on solutions to the rhino poaching crisis.

South Africa's national parks authority has announced it is hiring an an extra 150 rangers to protect the rhinos at Kruger park, while the country's environmental affairs ministry is considering re-erecting an electric fence along the park's border with Mozambique, were some of the poachers are thought to come from. 

Three Mozambican men were jailed last month for 25 years each after being found guilty of hunting rhino at Kruger park.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Anger over official rhino hunting auction

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