Washington, DC, Jan 10, 2013 — Rhino poaching statistics released today by the South African government reveal that a record 668 rhinos were killed across the country in 2012, an increase of nearly 50% from the 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011, and a staggering 5000% increase since 2007, when the number poached was 13. An additional five rhinos have been killed since the beginning of this year.
A majority of the rhino deaths, 425, occurred in Kruger National Park, South Africa's premier safari destination. Poaching incidents in Kruger rose sharply from 252 in 2011.
"I did not want to believe the 2012 numbers," said Matthew Lewis, WWF's African species expert. "This new high in South Africa for the number of rhinos poached within the last decade is horrific. Poachers are stepping up their game and we must do the same. We need to increase protection for rangers on the frontlines and curb the demand for rhino horn in consumer countries to stop this heinous wildlife crime. I do not want to imagine a world in which rhinos no longer exist in the wild."
A recent TRAFFIC report found that rhino horns are mistakenly believed to have medicinal properties and are seen as highly desirable status symbols in some Asian countries, notably Vietnam. The increased value of rhino horn has enticed well-organized, well-financed and highly-mobile criminal groups to become involved in rhino poaching.
"Vietnam must curtail the nation's rhino horn habit, which is fueling a poaching crisis in South Africa," said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC's Director of Advocacy. "Rhinos are being illegally killed, their horns hacked off and the animals left to bleed to death, all for the frivolous use of their horns as a hangover cure."
In December, Vietnam and South Africa signed an agreement aimed at bolstering law enforcement and tackling illegal wildlife trade including rhino horn trafficking. The agreement paves the way for improved intelligence information sharing and joint efforts by the two nations to crack down on the criminal syndicates behind the smuggling networks.
"While we commend South Africa and Vietnam for signing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding biodiversity conservation, we now need to see a joint Rhino Plan of Action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures," said Dr Jo Shaw, WWF-SA's Rhino Coordinator.
"There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique."
Both Mozambique and Vietnam have been given failing grades by WWF's Wildlife Crime Scorecard for failing to enforce laws meant to protect rhinos. The study also outlines important actions needed by South Africa, such as ensuring those arrested for rhino crimes are prosecuted and punished.