JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (BNO NEWS) — At least 54 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year as demand for its horn continues at an all-time high, according to data released by the South African National Parks (SANParks) on Wednesday.
According to the new figures, at least 52 rhinos were killed across the country during the first 44 days of the year. However, shortly after the announcement by SANParks, the Mercury newspaper received information that two more rhinos had been poached at a private game lodge near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, raising the number to 54.
Most of the rhinos killed so far this year were living in Kruger National Park (KNP) and Limpopo province with 26 and 13 rhinos poached respectively. At the current rate, it is expected that at least 450 rhinos will have been killed by criminal syndicates by the end of 2012.
“It is worrying that we are still losing such a high number of rhinos throughout the country. The most encouraging area in this whole saga is the increasing number of arrests and the steeper sentences that are being imposed,” said David Mabunda, CEO of SANParks. “The difficulty is pinning a suspected criminal to the crime because we are dealing with very wily, sophisticated individuals.”
At least 30 poachers have been arrested across South Africa so far this year, most of them in the province of North West where ten arrests were made. Police arrested 232 poachers last year, a significant increase from the 165 arrests made in 2010.
Among those arrested so far this year are five suspected poachers who were taken into custody on Tuesday after a shoot-out with police. A .458 caliber rifle and 14 rounds of ammunition were seized from the suspects, but other details were not immediately released.
“Conservation agencies and the police are seeing increasing cooperation from the public which has resulted in arrests in the KNP and some provinces being effective before the criminals even enter the parks,” Mabunda said.
Rhinos are mostly being killed for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across Southeast Asia, and an increasing demand has pushed prices to more than $ 50,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). At least 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2011, a substantial increase from the 333 rhinos killed in 2010, according to SANParks. At least 122 rhinos were killed in 2009.
In November 2011, the International Union for the Conservative of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s Western Black Rhinoceros to be extinct. The rhino subspecies was once widespread in central-west Africa, but the Western Black Rhinoceros became heavily hunted in the beginning of the 20th century.
Although preservation actions in the 1930s allowed the species to partially recover, protection efforts later declined. By 2000, only about a dozen Western Black Rhinoceros were thought to be alive, and a survey in 2006 found none to be alive. No sightings of the animal have been reported since, and none were held in captivity.
And in October 2011, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation confirmed that Javan rhinoceros have also been driven to complete extinction in Vietnam. With the complete extinction in Vietnam, only one small group remains in the wild: the 40 to 50 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon in Indonesia.
Other rhino subspecies also face extinction. The population of the Sumatran rhino, which is found from northeastern India through Southeast Asia in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra, has declined by at least 50 percent during the last 15 years, making it one of the most endangered rhino species in the world.