South Africa's 'CSI': probing rhino poaching

South Africa's 'CSI': probing rhino poaching

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK,South Africa - Investigators comb the crime scene, planting a small red flag in the spot where a bullet shell lies near the latest victim in South Africa's Kruger National Park.

Vultures circle above the gigantic decomposing rhino carcass baking in the sun in the sparse bush after illegal poachers shot it for its horn.

Almost 900 rhinos have been killed this year alone in South Africa.

A hole gapes above the bull's nose, where a poacher hacked off its distinctive horn for the Asian black market. Scavengers have already feasted on the wound.

The horn of his female companion, lying 100 metres (yards) away, is intact, suggesting the poachers may have been disturbed before finishing the job and fleeing across the border to Mozambique, just four kilometres (2.5 miles) away.

South African wildlife authorities search for all the clues they can to help establish what strategy the criminals use and any pattern to the killings.

"We collect every piece of evidence left behind by the poachers, including cartridges used to shoot the animal," said Kobus de Wet, chief environmental crime investigator at South African National Parks.

"The evidence is presented in court, if we happen to link any person to the crime."

Investigators wearing elbow-length rubber gloves scan the bull's thick hide with a metal detector, then cut the area around its wound open with scalpels for their postmortem report.

Evoking the American television drama series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", the wildlife sleuths place bullet fragments, casings and other pieces of evidence in small plastic bags for forensic processing.

The experts conclude that two shots from a .458 calibre hunting rifle finished off the bull. But they are not yet sure what killed the female.

"The poachers use powerful hunting weapons and have the skills of professional hunters," De Wet said.

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