MORE THAN 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, the government said today, as strong demand from Asia fuelled a 50 per cent jump in the illegal slaughter from 2012.
“The total number of rhino poached in South Africa during 2013 increased to 1,004,” the environment ministry said in a statement.
Rhino horns are prized as a status symbol in Asia and mistakenly thought to possess medicinal properties, even though they are composed of the same material as fingernails.
In 2007 only 13 rhinos were reported poached in South Africa, but since then the numbers have increased exponentially every year.
Despite drone and foot patrols, poachers appear to stay ahead of the security forces.
Some 37 rhinos have already been illegally killed so far this year in South Africa, which is home to around 80 per cent of the world’s rhino population, estimated at more than 25,000.
The famous Kruger National Park bordering Mozambique has borne the brunt of the poaching scourge.
Sophisticated transnational criminal organisations illegally hunt the animals and hack off their horns which are then smuggled out of the country to Asia.
A total of 343 arrests were made in the past year for poaching.
Wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic warned that at the rate the killing is going:
South Africa’s White Rhino population (is) ever closer to the tipping point when deaths will outnumber births and the population will go into serious decline.
Julian Rademeyer, author of a book “Killing for Profit – Exposing the illegal rhino horn trade” sees no respite for rhinos because their horns have become a lucrative product.
“We’re certain to see another record. We’re certain to see more than 1,000 rhinos being poached in 2014,” Rademeyer told AFP. “It will probably take a miracle to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”
“This is about a product, rhino horn is a product. These syndicates don’t stop at one product, they want other products.
“They want lion bones, they want reptiles, they want ivory. So once they’ve gained a foothold, it is getting very difficult to get rid of them.”
Organised crime elements who have previously been involved in cash heists or bank robberies, are now “moving into rhino horn because the risks are far lower.”