An Italian father and son have been shot dead by a ranger in a wildlife park in Zimbabwe after the pair were mistaken for elephant poachers.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) said on Monday Claudio Chiarelli and his son Max Chiarelli were members of volunteer anti-poaching organisation Zambezi Society, which was conducting patrols in Mana Pools National Park.
The two men had been with a group sent out on Sunday to relieve a team of rangers deployed the previous day to follow a trail of suspected poachers.
"The rangers... saw movement in the thicket, heard voices and opened fire, accidentally shooting and killing on the spot the pair," the parks agency said in a statement.
"Unbeknown to them these were fresh deployments who had come to replace the rangers and had stopped to attend to a mechanical problem on their vehicle."
It said investigations were under way.
An official from the Italian embassy in Harare confirmed the deaths and said the older Chiarelli, who is a professional hunter, had been taking eight park rangers in his vehicle to relieve the group from which the shots were fired.
The official, who declined to be named, said Chiarelli had lived in Zimbabwe since 1982 and his son Max had been born in the country.
"It seems like an accident. We are in contact with Foreign Affairs to get an official report," the official said.
Mana Pools adjoins the Zambezi River, which runs along Zimbabwe's border with Zambia.
Authorities have for years been battling poachers, most of whom come from Zambia and who have recently been using cyanide to kill elephants.
Poachers cut off the dead animals' tusks and sell them to dealers for up to US$65,000 (NZ$97,500) a kilogram, according to conservationists.
The ivory is ultimately used for ornamental carving in China and other parts of east Asia.