Johannesburg (AFP) - South African investigators said Friday they have arrested the suspected ring leader of a rhino poaching gang believed to be behind the killing of at least 24 of the endangered animals.
The man was arrested at the Pretoria Magistrate Court where he was being tried for separate poaching-related offences, police said.
His nine alleged accomplices were arrested in different parts of the country.
"The group is alleged to have contributed to the brutal slaughter and mutilation of 24 rhinos in state and privately owned game reserves," police said in a statement.
The killings are said to have taken place between 2008 and 2012.
Only two of the hacked animals survived.
The suspect will appear in court on Monday on range of charges including theft, fraud, money laundering and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
According to the investigators, the syndicate obtained a total of 84 rhino horns.
South Africa is battling a rhino poaching crisis, with over 700 animals slaughtered for their horns since the beginning of the year.
Most of the killing has taken place in the famed Kruger National Park, prompting the government to adopt a plan to evacuate the animals to safety zones, including neighbouring countries.
Anwa Dramat, the head of the special crimes investigation police unit known as the Hawks, said they had been "circling around this group for some time".
In July, a court sentenced a rhino poacher to a record 77 years, in a bid to curb the crisis fuelled by a rising demand in Asian countries
Rhino horn in southeast Asian countries is a prized commodity used in traditional medicines and beauty potions.