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Zambia makes arrests in ranger killing

June 3, 2014

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Two suspected poachers were arrested for the shooting death of the head of law enforcement at a wildlife park in Zambia, a week after a funeral service attended by the seven children of the slain ranger.

Fellow park officials in camouflage uniforms and black berets saluted Dexter Chilunda and placed plastic flowers on his grave.

The suspects, who face charges including murder, were detained about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Liuwa Plain National Park on Sunday after outraged local residents provided information to the authorities on their whereabouts, a group that runs the park said Tuesday. A reward of nearly $10,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter, according to African Parks, a Johannesburg-based group that operates seven national parks in six countries.

Chilunda was killed on May 23 while investigating reports of gunshots in the park. He was buried three days later in an emotional ceremony in his home village of Samapeni after his body was transported nearly 300 kilometers (185 miles), first by boat and then in a bus accompanied by other vehicles, said Simon Pitt, acting manager of the Liuwa Plain park in western Zambia.

“The children all had to be guided to the grave by aunts and family friends to help them place flowers,” Pitt wrote in an email to The Associated Press. Chilunda’s grief-stricken wife was unable to stand for most of the service, Pitt said.

More than 10,000 people live in the Liuwa Plain park, and authorities relied on tips from villagers to follow Chilunda’s suspected killers over two days. They were arrested after crossing the Zambezi River.

About 30 to 50 poachers are arrested annually in Liuwa Plain park, and most kill animals for their meat, according to Pitt. He said new roads and other infrastructure in the area make it easier for parks officials to operate and attract visitors, but could also make it easier for poachers to escalate their illegal activities, particularly with the relaxation of border controls. The park is near Angola.

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