Rhino poaching toll reaches new high
Rhino poaching toll reaches new high Reuters

Statistics released by the South African government show a record 668 rhinoceros were killed across the country in 2012. The figure marks an increase of nearly 50 percent from the 2011 mark of 448. Tragically, well over 50 percent of the rhinos poached in 2012 were killed in the Kruger National Park, the country's largest wildlife reserve and one of the most famous in the world.

"I did not want to believe the 2012 numbers," Matthew Lewis, the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) African species expert said, "This new high in South Africa for the number of rhinos poached within the last decade is horrific. Poachers are stepping up their game and we must do the same. We need to increase protection for rangers on the frontlines and curb the demand for rhino horn in consumer countries to stop this heinous wildlife crime. I do not want to imagine a world in which rhinos no longer exist in the wild."

TRAFFIC, an organisation that monitors the wildlife trade network, explains there are two species of rhinoceros found in Africa - the Black (Diceros bicornis), which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as Critically Endangered, and White (Ceratotherium simum), which is listed as Near Threatened. The IUCN also states South Africa is viewed as the stronghold for both species, with 18,800 White Rhinoceros as of 2010 and a little under 2,000 Black Rhinos.

Further, TRAFFIC notes rhino horns are in demand because they are important constituents of traditional Chinese medicines. Increasingly, however, the rhino horn is also being seen as a status symbol, particularly in some Asian countries like Vietnam.

"Viet Nam must curtail the nation's rhino horn habit, which is fuelling a poaching crisis in South Africa," Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC's Director of Advocacy was quoted as saying, "Rhinos are being illegally killed, their horns hacked off and the animals left to bleed to death, all for the frivolous use of their horns as a hangover cure."

2013 has already seen five more rhinos killed, according to the South African government.

In November, a Thai national was sentenced to 40 years in prison for rhino poaching in South Africa, the harshest sentence ever handed out for a wildlife crime in the country. And in the following month, the country signed a deal with Vietnam to tackle rhino poaching in a bid to crack down on the illegal trade in horns for use in traditional medicine.

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