By Jon Herskovitz, Ed Stoddard
(Reuters) - Africa's biggest animals were poached in near record numbers in 2012, with surging demand for horn and ivory from Asia driving the slaughter of rhinos and elephants.
By mid-December, poachers had killed 633 rhinos in South Africa, according to environment ministry figures.
That marks a new annual peak in the country that is home to most of the continent's rhinos, and a sharp rise from the record 448 poached last year and the mere handful of deaths recorded a decade ago.
Elsewhere in Africa, the slaughter of elephants continued unabated, with mass killings reported in Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to conservation group TRAFFIC, which monitors global trade in animals and plants, the amount of ivory seized will likely drop from 2011, when a record number of big hauls were made globally. But the trend remains grim.
"It looks like 2012 is another bumper year for trade in illegal ivory though it is unlikely to top 2011," said Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC's Elephant Trade Information System. More....