By Tony Carnie
South Africa celebrated World Rhino Day on Sunday by clocking up the bloodiest rhino poaching statistics in more than a century. Until five years ago, poaching rates across the country had seldom exceeded 20 rhinos a year.
But since 2008 the killing rate has risen to record levels each successive year, reaching a high of 668 deaths at the end of last year. Nine months into this year even this record has been shattered.
The latest statistics, released on Sunday, show 688 rhino have now been slaughtered for their horns by poaching gangs and criminal syndicates.
At the current rate of slaughter, conservation officials fear that this year’s toll could reach 1 000.
The worst casualty rate has been in the Kruger National Park, where 418 rhinos were killed this year.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 65 have been killed. There were 80 deaths in Limpopo, 69 in North West and 48 in Mpumalanga.
The Wildlife and Environment Society noted that South Africa had lost a total of 2 409 rhinos since 2000.
“However, 95 percent (2 289) of these losses have been in the past five years. This is a significant number when one considers only about 25 500 rhinos remain on the continent.
“South Africa is now losing one rhino every nine hours.”
The society warned that poaching could soon take its toll on one of the country’s most lucrative sectors, tourism.