Kazakh authorities say they have arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in the killing of a ranger who was allegedly beaten to death during a confrontation with suspected poachers.
The suspects were detained at a home in the southern city of Qyzylorda, the Interior Ministry said on January 21.
The Prosecutor-General's Office in the Central Asian country said the chief prosecutor was taking charge of the high-profile investigation into the January 15 death of Erlan Nurghaliev, a ranger with the state wildlife agency Okhotzooprom.
The case has sparked outrage in Kazakhstan and highlighted the threats to saiga, an endangered species of antelope protected by law in the former Soviet republic.
Nurghaliev's partner, Pyotr Nitsyk, said the two had been on patrol on January 13 near Lake Tengiz, about 150 kilometers southwest of Astana, when they discovered car tracks in the snow and heard gunshots. They also saw freshly killed saiga.
Nitsyk told reporters that a second car of rangers went to try and find the alleged poachers' cars, while Nitsyk and Nurghaliev followed the tracks and caught up with the suspects as they drove away.
Nitsyk said they fired warning shots and then managed to block the car's movement. The cars stopped and the rangers confronted the men, who attacked them, according to Nitsyk, badly beating Nurghaliev and hitting him in the head with a rifle butt.
The alleged poachers drove away, taking the rangers' car keys and a GPS locator, Nitsyk said. The second patrol of rangers couldn't immediately find Nitsyk and Nurghaliev, whose age was given as either 53 or 55, delaying his medical treatment.
Nurghaliev was hospitalized in the capital, Astana, and died two days later without regaining consciousness.