Prince Harry is waging war against rhino poachers.

The 30-year-old joined a specialist army unit on the South African game reserve of Kruger Park, battling gangs of criminals as part of the government's anti-poaching campaign, called Operation Corona.

The Prince was secretly flown into the military camp where he has been going on night patrols as part of a three-month trip working for African conservation.

The South African force consists of several hundred infantry, 400 armed rangers and 150 others, including special forces and police.

Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Maj Gen Jooste, 62, welcomed the arrival of the Prince to the game reserve.

He said: "Harry will be with me for quite some time. We'll try to keep him safe. This is a declaration of war against South Africa by armed foreign criminals. We are taking the war to these armed bandits and we aim to win it.'

In his first week at the game reserve, Harry has already has already confronted three poachers. One shoot-out, left a poacher injured and rangers were able to recover a rifle and silencer, undoubtedly preventing a killing.

South African conservationist Peter Chadwick said: "This is counter-insurgency, an actual war that they are fighting. I know of Prince Harry's involvement with the anti-poaching unit in Kruger and I know the situation there is no fun and games. You don't get a chance to sit down and reason with these guys over a cup of tea.

"It's all about rapid response and that's where the helicopters come in. I wouldn't be surprised if Harry was doing some piloting."

The team have so far killed more than 300 poachers caught infiltrating the game reserve wielding rifles and machetes.

Harry has already spent six weeks in Namibia where the government is carrying out a drastic dehorning programme to deter poachers.

Ending a decade long career in the armed forces, the Prince said he was now committed toprotecting endgangered species.

"I feel more myself in Africa... I've been wanting to do it for the past five years, and being in the Army I just never, ever had the opportunity to do it," he explained.

"With my interests in conservation which I've had all the way through, and for William's as well, it's nice for me to be able to actually get the opportunity to work with people on the ground where the truth is."

Announcing the Prince's personal mission on behalf of the Zoological Society of London and the Tusk Trust, Kensington Palace said in an earlier statement: "Prince Harry will spend time working with experts at the sharp end of wildlife protection. He will join a team of rangers who are the first to respond to reports of poaching attacks on elephant and rhino.

"Wherever possible, Prince Harry will be fully embedded with the conservationists and frontline staff he will be working alongside, including living in the same accommodation."

558 rhinos have been killed in Kruger so far this year with the incidence of rhino deaths in Kruger doubling.

Rhinos are hunted for their horns which are wrongly believed to have medicinal properties. The sale of rhino horns is a lucrative trade garnering up to £20,000 a pound in the Far East.