Gendarmes in Madagascar said Saturday they had shot dead nine zebu thieves and rounded up close to 200 of the stolen cattle as they ramped up their battle against killer rustling gangs on the Indian Ocean island.
The nine cattle thieves -- known as "dahalos" in the local Malagasy language -- were killed during an air and land operation in the south of the island on Thursday, Lala Rakotonirina, spokesman for the paramilitary force, told AFP.
"Using helicopters in our efforts to restore security in the south has paid off as a strategy," he said. "Helicopters are scaring off the dahalos and at the same time are useful to guide our ground forces."
The spokesman said a total of 189 zebus were recovered from the rustlers during the operation.
The humped mammals -- also known as Brahman cattle -- are prized in Madagascar and while rustling has long plagued parts of the island, violence escalated after a deadly ambush against the security forces in June 2012.
The government has been on the war path since, deploying crack troops across vast areas over which it has traditionally exerted little control in a bid to root out the thieves.
The rustlers' top leader -- known as Remenabila -- is the island's most wanted man and has a $50,000 bounty on his head.
Amnesty International last year criticised the government for its ham-fisted security response, urging an end to a cycle of violence that has left hundreds of people dead and villages burnt down.