The number of rhinos killed by poachers has hit a new record, raising worries of a downward population spiral in a country that is home to almost all of Africa’s rhinos.
In the 12 months to the end of September, 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa, exceeding the record of 668 set in 2012, according to data provided by the environment ministry.
If the trend continues at this pace, more than 1,000 rhinos would be killed in 2014, putting the species on the brink of a population decline that the ministry has said could lead to the end of wild rhinos in about a decade.
The greatest threat to the estimated 22,000 rhinos in South Africa comes from those trying to cash in on the black market value of their horn, which sells at prices higher than gold. Many of the poachers come from neighbouring Mozambique and sell the horn to crime syndicates to feed rapidly rising demand in South-east Asia, where the horn is thought by some to cure cancer and tame hangovers.
“We need people to be ashamed of this. The fact that our rhinos are killed is because there is a market out there. There are people who are coming to steal our heritage,” said Fundisile Mketeni, a biodiversity official at the ministry.