Masvingo — Three suspected poachers, who were part of a five-man gang allegedly intending to kill rhinos at Malilangwe Trust Conservancy in Chiredzi, were last weekend shot dead by a joint team of police and game rangers following a prolonged exchange of gunfire.
After the shootout, inside the conservancy, one of the five suspects escaped while the other one was apprehended while holed up in their getaway Toyota Hilux parked along the Chiredzi-Tanganda highway.
A police team and game rangers ambushed the poachers at Chipangadzi Bridge inside Malilangwe following a tip-off.
Masvingo police spokesman Inspector Phibion Nyambo said the names of the three were being withheld until their next of kin had been notified.
"Three suspected poachers, all of them from Gweru, were shot dead following an encounter with our officers who were on patrol together with game rangers from Malilangwe.
"We managed to arrest one of the suspects and also impounded the Toyota Hilux which they wanted to use as a getaway car.
"However, one of the suspects managed to flee and we are looking for him. We managed to recover two rifles, -- a .303 and a .306 -- which the suspects were using.
"We also recovered 58 live rounds of ammunition and some spent cartridges," said Insp Nyambo.
He said the bodies of the poachers were taken to Chiredzi District Hospital for post-mortem.
It is believed that the poachers arrived at Malilangwe Trust Conservancy aboard a Toyota Hilux with the intention of killing rhinos and dehorning them.
Police, acting on a tip-off, teamed up with game rangers and ambushed the suspects inside the conservancy.
They encountered the poachers at Chipangadzi Bridge and ordered them to surrender.
But the suspects started firing at the police and game rangers prompting a prolonged gunfight that resulted in the death of the three.
Insp Nyambo said police were increasingly worried by the rampant poaching of rhinos in the Lowveld.
Last year poachers killed about 13 rhinos in the Lowveld.
Only recently, another suspected poacher, Starford Machirori, was shot dead by game rangers while poaching rhinos at Kyle Recreational Park.
Zimbabwe is up for discussion at next year's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting over the increased poaching of rhinos, which are classified as endangered species.
Zimbabwe has lost about 70 rhinos over the past 12 months to poaching, according to Parks' official statistics.