By Sam Downing
It's not even one month into 2014 and there have already been dozens of poaching deaths — both animal and human — at Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa.
Since January 1, the bodies of 46 rhinoceroses killed by poachers have been found in the park, according to a statement released by South African National Parks (SANParks).
Six of those rhinos were killed at the end of 2013, but the rest were slaughtered in 2014.
Agents from the park's Rangers Corp and the South African National Defence Force have already killed 11 poaching suspects in 2014. Of those, seven were killed during four armed confrontations last weekend.
Though Rangers Corp Major General Johan Jooste pledged to "win this war" against poachers, the early figures suggest it could be a bloody year for rhinos.
2013 was the worst year on record for rhino poaching in South Africa since records began in the early '90s. More than 1000 of the animals were killed by poachers, up from 668 in 2012.
At Kruger National Park, 606 rhinos were poached in 2013.
Kruger National Park estimates that up to 15 "heavily armed" groups of poachers operate in its 19,600 square km territory at any given time.
The poachers, moving in teams of 4 to 6, are especially active around the full moon and more than 80 percent are believed to enter from Mozambique, which borders Kruger National Park to the north-east.
SANParks has appealed to the South African public and to its counterparts in Mozambique to help stop the trade in poached rhinoceros body parts, which is largely fuelled by demand from Asian countries.