A sedated Elephant is processed and collared by experts at Kenya's Tsavo-east National park in Mar. 2012 as part of efforts to crackdown on a dramatic increase in poaching.

Five suspected poachers have been shot dead during a late-night gun battle with wildlife rangers in in the western Rift Valley region of Kenya.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service two of its rangers were injured during 40-minute exchange of fire at Chepareria in West Pokot County, AFP says.

A manhunt was launched for a sixth suspect who escaped.

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Kenya's Capital FM reports that 110lbs of elephant tusks, three AK47 rifles and 15 rounds of ammunition were later recovered at the scene.

The country's Standard newspaper describes how the suspected poachers began shooting at the patrolling rangers from their truck.  It describes the exchange of fire between the two groups as "fierce".

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Last month the KWS said it was increasing efforts to crackdown on poachers, according to Reuters, which says that six poachers hunting elephant, buffalo and rhino had already been killed this year.

The news service adds that poaching had significantly declined since the 1980s and 1990s, but was experiencing a recent upsurge.

The BBC says that about 100 elephants are now killed each year in Kenya by poachers and the ivory is often smuggled into Asia to be used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.

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