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Rhino poaching 'kingpin' arrested in South Africa

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A rhinoceros rests in the Kruger National Park near Nelspruit on February 6, 2013. South African national park officials claimed a significant victory in the battle against rhino poaching, saying they have arrested a man described as a "kingpin" in the illicit trade.AFP/File

South African national park officials claimed a significant victory in the battle against rhino poaching Thursday, saying they have arrested a man described as a "kingpin" in the illicit trade.

"So far we have arrested a large number of foot soldiers, we believe this guy is the mastermind," said South African National Parks spokesman Ike Phaahla.

The man, whose identity has not yet been released, was nabbed in a village outside South Africa's Kruger National Park.

"The man was arrested on Tuesday and is suspected to be one of the kingpins," said Phaahla.

Police are conducting further investigation, but he is expected to appear in court soon.

During the arrest, police recovered a rifle, two pistols, hunting equipment, ammunition, field rangers uniforms and suspected rhino remains.

Most of the 618 rhino killed this year were from the world-renowned Kruger, which borders Mozambique.

Government has beefed up patrols inside the park, with the army deployed in 2011 to fight poachers.

Some 191 suspected poachers have been arrested this year.

The lucrative Asian market for rhino horn drives poaching in South Africa, which has the largest rhino population on the continent.

Asian consumers falsely believe the horns, the same material as fingernails, have powerful healing properties.

South Africa is home to around 80 percent of the world's rhino population, estimated at more than 25,000.