January 13, 2011

2010 A Bad Year For S African Rhinos

2010 was the worst year for rhinos as 333 were lost to poaching in South Africa, almost three times more than the previous year's losses, the country's parks agency said on Wednesday.

Reynold Thakhuli, spokesman for the National Parks Agency, told AFP that "this has definitely been the worst year for rhino poaching -- this is the highest number ever recorded."

However, anti-poaching programs were showing some promise, the agency said. Five suspected poachers were shot and killed at the world-famous Kruger National Park in the last four days.

"Since the beginning of this year a total of five more poachers have died when rangers acted in self-defense after poachers opened fire on them," said agency chief executive Dr David Mabunda in a statement.

Kruger National Park by far suffered the worst losses, with 146 of the poached rhinos in 2010 coming from that region.

"It is more worrying that rangers are often greeted by the poachers' firepower without warning," said Mabunda.

Police have arrested 162 people linked to rhino poaching at various levels, ranging from actual poaching to couriers and kingpins. But even so, five rhinos have been taken in South Africa since the beginning of this year, added Mabunda.

More than 70 percent of the world's remaining rhinos live in South Africa and experts blame a booming black-market demand for horns, which saw the numbers killed jump to 333 last year from 122 the year before.

Conservationists estimate that there are about 25,000 rhinos left in the wild around the world, with three Asian species and two African species. The Asian rhino populations have already been pushed to the brink of extinction due to hunting and deforestation.

Rhino horns are used in Asian traditional medicine, and with the most recently reported belief in Vietnam that the horns can cure cancer, the demand for them have skyrocketed.