By James A. Foley
An insatiable blackmarket demand for rhinoceros horns has led to the deaths of at least 232 rhinos in South Africa in the first 15 weeks of the year.
Citing South Africa's Department of Environment Affairs, the website Annamiticus reports the death toll for the first 107 days of the year.
There are about 25,000 rhinos on mainland Africa and South Africa is home to about 85 percent of them.
The number of rhinos killed in South Africa in the first quarter of 2013 appears to exceed the death tolls for all of 2007, 2008 and 2009 combined. At the current pace of 2.1 dead rhinos per day, 767 rhinos will die at the hand of poachers by the end of the year.
In 2012, the Independent reports there were 633 rhinos killed by poachers, up 30 percent from the year before.
Trade of rhino horn has a centuries-old history in China, where it's used as medicine and for jewelry. A newly affluent class in Vietnam views acquisition of rhino horn as a status symbol, which has driven up the price and fueled the business of poaching and international organized crime.
Some buy rhino horn for its purported medicinal qualities; it is believed to cure a range of ailments from hangovers and gout to cancer and devil possession, though Western medicine rejects those claims as baseless.
Rhino horn is essentially composed of keratin and consuming it is the dietary equivalent of eating fingernails.
Earlier this month, a cache of rhino horns was stolen from a game reserve, where the wardens had sawed the horns off their own rhinos to prevent them from being killed by poachers.
The 66 rhinoceros horns were valued at $2.75 million dollars.