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NAIROBI - Kenya's wildlife body said on Thursday its rangers shot dead one suspected poacher as his accomplice fled with injuries in Kajiado, in the outskirts of Nairobi.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Corporate Affairs Manager Paul Udoto said an AK 47 rifle with 13 rounds of ammunition, an axe, one spent cartridge and a mobile phone were recovered from the deceased at the scene.
"One suspected poacher was gunned down this afternoon while his accomplice fled with injuries in Labendera Mosiro area of Kajiado County," Udoto said in a statement released in Nairobi.
The incident came a day after two suspects were arraigned before a Magistrate court in Nairobi and denied the charges of smuggling ivory. The magistrate set September 17 as the date of the hearing.
The two were arrested on June 22 connection with 345 pieces of ivory weighing 601 kg intercepted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, by KWS Canine Unit, Police and Customs officials while being smuggled to Lagos, Nigeria.
The ivory which was packed in six crates and sprayed with pepper to prevent dogs from sniffing it had been further covered with aluminum foil.
KWS authorities have been investigating the incident to determine the origin and owners of the illegal raw ivory cargo, which was to be flown on Ethiopian Airlines.
But Udoto said on Thursday that the KWS patrol rangers had been monitoring elephants in the Kajiado area after six lions were killed by angry residents last month.
Udoto said the rangers encountered the two armed men trailing the animals and a shootout ensued.
"Illegal elephant killings have been reported from that area and it's suspected that the gang was involved. KWS teams have launched a major hunt for the escaped suspect," Udoto said.
Kenya is among countries in Africa where poaching is rampant despite the vice having been outlawed in the country in 1977.
Poachers target especially rhinos and elephants for their tusks and skins, which fetch a lot of money in the black market particularly in Asia.
The East African nation has been losing 100 lions a year for the past seven years, leaving the country with just 2,000 of its famous big cats, meaning that the country could have no wild lions at all in 20 years.
Conservationists have blamed habitat destruction, disease and conflict with humans for the lion population decline.
The number of elephants has reduced from a high of 160,000 in 1970s to below 30,000. KWS said between the 1970s and 1980s Kenya lost over 80 percent of her elephants, mainly due to intensive poaching of elephants for ivory.
Also affected are the Black Rhinos whose number declined from 20,000 in 1970 to 577 in 2011. KWS officials said poachers who are mostly armed are dangerous will not hesitate to turn these firearms against innocent members of the public.