The poacher who died was on bail for illegal hunting when his gang was confronted by park rangers and police in Zimbabwe’s famous Hawange National Park.
A second poacher was also badly wounded in the operation launched after shots were heard ringing out near the park’s main camp.
After finding one bull elephant with its tusks removed, the patrol then came across the poachers removing ivory from a second elephant.
The Bhejane Trust, a non-profit conservation trust named after the Ndebele word for black rhinos, detailed the incident in a statement, explaining how the poacher killed had died one 150 metres from the “contact scene”, while the wounded suspect initially fled the scene but was later captured with three gunshot wounds to the shoulder and thigh.
Four tusks and a rifle were recovered at the scene.
The statement continued: “This incident again emphasises the dedication of the park’s rangers on the frontline, working under difficult and dangerous conditions to protect our wildlife.
“It also illustrates that Zimbabwe Parks are prepared to take the war to the poachers, with full backing from the Government.”
In a later statement detailing how the wounded suspect had been arrested, the Bhejane Trust added: “These ivory poachers are generally professional, hardened criminals, killing purely for profit, and they would not hesitate to shoot if confronted by rangers — it is basically a war…”
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority warned poachers of the “dire consequences” they face after three died in two separate “contacts” earlier this year.
It explained: “The rate at which poachers are gaining illegal entry into protected areas is indication of the amount of pressure the country’s wildlife resources are being put under.
“The Authority, however, warns strongly would-be poachers that illegal entry into these protected areas will have dire consequences.
“The mandate of the Authority is to protect and conserve the country’s wildlife resources and rangers patrolling the Parks Estate will do so at whatever cost.”
Poachers can make life-changing fortunes for the price of a rifle bullet. With illegal ivory selling at around £560 a kilo, a dead bull elephant’s tusks can fetch around £32,000 on the black market.
Despite high profile efforts by Britain, the United States and China to stop the massacre of elephants for the illicit ivory trade, the world’s largest land animals continue to die in appalling numbers.
A pan-African study last year revealed how 144,000 elephants had died over the previous decade and losses are running at eight per cent a year.
The appalling lengths poachers are stooping to kill elephants has seen Hwange herds fall victim to the horrors cyanide poisoning. Ten animals, including a mother and calf, were killed last month, with some having their tusks removed. Six were found inside the park, the others on its outskirts.
Spiking waterholes and salt licks with the poison, or simply leaving it for animals to find in buckets, has become an effective weapon in the poachers’ armoury since it was first used to kill 100 elephants in Hwange four years ago.
For the elephants it means a long, lingering death from organ failure.
It also puts other wildlife in danger from secondary contamination by eating animals who have drunk from poisoned water sources.
Hwange made global headline news in July 2015 when its best known animal, Cecil the black-maned lion, was killed by American dentist and recreational hunter Walter Palmer with an arrow.
Cecil’s range extended outside the park and he was killed in area that was not protected.