By Jeremy Hance
Poachers have butchered 558 rhinos in South Africa so far this year, approximately a hundred more animals than lost during the same time in 2013.
Last year set a bloody record for rhino poaching in the country, which houses around 75 percent of the world's total rhino population, with 1,004 killed. Yet, if this year's current trend continues for the second half of 2014, the country could exceed that number by over 100 animals.
The country's biggest protected area, Kruger National Park, remains the hardest hit by poachers. To date, about 62 percent of the rhinos killed in the country were poached in Kruger.
Rhinos are being poached for their horn, which is sawn off, ground into a powder, and consumed in places like Vietnam and China as a status symbol and a curative. This despite the fact that there is no evidence rhino horn curing anything, and, given that it's made almost entirely of keratin, scientists have likened it to eating your fingernails. Still, rhino horn has become more valuable than gold and cocaine in recent years as there has been a surge of demand for the illicit product.
Of the world's five rhino species, three are currently listed as Critically Endangered and two of these aredown to less than 100 animals. South Africa is home to the world's most abundant rhino species: the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), which is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. The country also houses the Critically Endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis), albeit in much smaller populations.