People, Environment

S. Africa Rhino Slaughter Spreading

S. Africa Rhino Slaughter SpreadingS. Africa Rhino Slaughter Spreading

Nearly 1,200 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year, officials said Thursday, a slight decrease on 2014, but another year of carnage fuelled by Asian-led demand for their horn.

Fewer than 100 rhinos were poached in 2008, since when numbers have rocketed. A record 1,215 were killed in 2014, AFP reported.

The slaughter has been driven by demand for their horn in countries such as China and Vietnam, where they are prized for their purported medicinal properties.

The horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails, but it is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases.

“These numbers are hardly cause for celebration or complacency,” said Sabri Zain, director of policy at Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring group.

“The figures remain unacceptably high, and continent-wide the scale of the rhino poaching crisis is spreading.”

Traffic said poaching in neighboring Zimbabwe and Namibia had increased -- meaning last year was the worst for rhino killed across Africa for decades.

South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa admitted the “onslaught against our rhino has continued unabated” but she hailed the toll of 1,175 as a major success.

“We are very pleased to announce that for the first time for a decade the poaching situation has stabilized,” she told reporters in Pretoria.

“This is very good news and very good cause for optimism.”

Molewa said 317 poachers had been arrested in 2015, up from 258 in 2014.

Many of the armed gangs are based in Mozambique, across the border from the Kruger National Park.

Some experts believe the real figures on poaching deaths are far higher as many carcasses are never recovered.

South Africa is said to be home to around 20,000 rhinos, some 80 percent of the worldwide population.

On Thursday, the South African high court upheld a decision by a lower court to lift the government’s ban on domestic trading of rhino horns, which will pave the way to restart the legal trade in rhino horns within the country, a move conservationists say could inspire further poaching and illegal international trade.