From: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, JOHANNESBURG
Published December 30, 2011 07:55 AM

It was a bad year for Rhinos as Asian demand for Rhino horn drives record slaughter in Africa

A record number of rhinos were poached this year in South Africa, home to the greatest number of the animals, as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to increased killings of the threatened species.

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At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said.

The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold, platinum and in many cases cocaine, as a belief - with no basis in science - has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer.

South Africa, home to more than 20,000 rhinos, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.

The number of rhinoceroses dying unnatural deaths in South Africa, either through illegal poaching or legal hunts, has reached a level likely to lead to population decline, according to a study by Richard Emslie, an expert in the field.

About half of poaching takes place in Kruger National Park, the country's flagship park covering an area about the size of Israel, where soldiers and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in recent months to slow the carnage.

The park has been the focal point of an arms race as gangs of poachers sponsored by international crime syndicates have used high-powered weaponry, night vision goggles and helicopters to hunt the animals, investigators said.

Photo shows the carcass of a rhino is seen after it was killed for its horn by poachers at the Kruger national park in Mpumalanga province September 14, 2011. South Africa loses hundreds of rhinos a year to illegal horn trade as high demand for rhino horn in the illegal market triggers an unprecedented poaching crisis.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Ilya Kachaev

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/30/us-safrica-rhinos-idUSTRE7BT0AU20111230

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