South Africa lost 333 rhinos to poaching in 2010, the highest number ever recorded and almost triple the previous year’s losses, the country’s parks agency said on Wednesday.
“This has definitely been the worst year for rhino poaching — this is the highest number ever recorded,” National Parks Agency spokesperson Reynold Thakhuli told AFP.
However the agency said anti-poaching programmes were yielding results. Five suspected poachers were shot dead 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-defence after poachers opened fire on them,” said parks agency chief executive Dr David Mabunda in a statement.
Kruger National Park suffered the worst losses in 2010, with 146 rhinos killed there.
“It is more worrying that rangers are often greeted by the poachers’ firepower without warning,” Mabunda said.
Police have arrested 162 people linked to rhino crimes at various levels, ranging from actual poachers to couriers and kingpins, but South Africa has already lost five rhinos in 2011, he added.
South Africa is home to more than 70% of the world’s remaining rhinos and experts blame a booming black-market demand for horns, which saw the number of the animals killed almost treble from 122 in 2009.
The use of rhino horn in Asian traditional medicine has continued to feed demand and more recently, researchers say, a belief that rhino horn can cure cancer has emerged in Vietnam.
Conservationists estimate there are around 25 000 rhinos left globally, with three species in Asia and two in Africa.
Asia’s rhino populations have already been pushed to the brink of extinction by hunting and deforestation. — AFP