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South Africa helicopter crash kills 5 in Kruger National Park


A white rhino grazes at the Kruger National Park in South Africa.


Erin Conway-Smith

A helicopter crash in South Africa's Kruger National Park has killed five members of the military who were patrolling in an anti-rhino poaching operation.

The helicopter's patrol was routine and an investigation into the cause of the crash is now under way.

A military statement identified the aircraft as an Agusta A109 light utility helicopter.

Rhino poaching is rampant in South Africa, and the military is trying to stop the killing of the animals for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold.

Three suspected poachers were killed in a shoot-out with rangers on Wednesday in the vast Kruger, where the killing of rhinos is particularly widespread.

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According to government figures released this week, 188 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year, with 135 killed illegally in Kruger alone. In 2012, 668 rhinos were poached, up 50 percent from 2011 and double the number in 2010.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, a strong protein found in human fingernails. In Asia, there is a belief that ingesting ground rhino horn cures diseases, but no medical evidence supports it.

South Africa is home to most of the world's white rhinos, with over 18,000, and about 40 percent of the rare black rhino population.

Many of the poachers who kill rhinos in Kruger come from poor villages in Mozambique.