DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Four senior wildlife officials and dozens of game wardens have been suspended in Tanzania after poachers killed two critically endangered rhinos in the Serengeti park, a minister said.
The acting director of the country’s national parks authority and the Serengeti’s chief warden were among those suspended pending investigation, said Hamisi Kagasheki, Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.
A female rhino, among a group of five rare East African black rhinos moved to the Serengeti from South Africa in 2010, and her calf were killed a month ago for their horns.
The animals had been fitted with electronic chips and were being protected by an elite ranger unit.
Kagasheki said 28 game wardens had also been suspended, while five suspected poachers had been arrested.
“Justice will be done for those found to have no involvement in this issue. But for those found to be involved in one way or another, the law will take its course,” he said on Tuesday.
“I am aware that there is a network of poachers ... I know that it exists. But we can’t operate in fear, we have to start from somewhere.”
He did not give any further details on why the wildlife officials and wardens had been suspended.
Rhino poaching has surged since 2007, fuelled in part by a growing demand in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand for rhino horn, used in traditional medicine.
Rampant poaching in the 1960s and 1970s in the Serengeti saw the population of East African black rhinos in Tanzania drop from more than 1,000 to just 70.
The rhinos killed last month were bred from a group moved from the Serengeti to South Africa in the 1960s to prevent the extinction of their sub-species.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete personally received the first five of 32 rhinos from South Africa, leading local conservationists to name the animals “JK’s rhinos”.
The remaining 27 rhinos are expected to be returned to their native country in stages.