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Rhino Poaching Declines Slightly In South Africa But Increases Overall Across Continent

Jan 27, 2016 03:00 PM EST

Rhino poaching in South Africa has decreased for the first time since 2007, experts say. Compared to the 1,215 rhinos illegally killed in 2014, only 1,175 rhinos were lost in 2015. This slight improvement, however, was greatly offset by alarming poaching rates recorded in neighboring countries.

"For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching," Tom Milliken, a rhino expert from the wildlife-trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, based out of Cambridge, U.K., said in a statement. "The poaching epicenter has spread to neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe, but is nowhere near being extinguished in South Africa: Despite some commendable efforts being made, we're still a very long way from seeing the light at the end of this very dark tunnel." (Scroll to read more...)

At least 1,312 rhinoceros were illegally killed in Africa in 2015 - overall a record high for the continent. This means that 137 rhinos were poached in Namibia and Zimbabwe alone, indicating a 200 percent increase from 2014. 

While poachers generally target rhinos in South Africa, these reports suggest hunters are expanding their range and targeting rhinos in previously secure areas.

In Namibia, for instance, 80 rhinos were lost to poachers in 2015 - up from 25 in 2014 and just four in 2013. And In Zimbabwe, 50 animals were killed, which is more than double the previous year's total.

These new reports are particularly alarming because these three countries are home to roughly 95 percent of all remaining African rhinos.

"The slight decrease in rhinos poached is somewhat of a relief compared to recent years when we've seen nothing but increases, however, no poaching is acceptable," Heather Sohl, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - U.K.'s Chief Advisor on Species, added in a news release. "In the 17 years preceding the sudden escalation in 2008 fewer than 36 rhinos used to be killed by poachers in South Africa each year, so it's still totally absurd that today there is this high level of poaching. Wildlife crime is a serious crime and needs to be treated as such. WWF will continue to work with partners across the globe to reduce the poaching, the trafficking and the demand for illegal wildlife products like rhino horn."

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