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Record Number of Rhinos Die from Poaching in 2014

Jan 23, 2015 12:07 PM EST

As the poaching crisis continues to run rampant across South Africa, a record number of rhinos consequentially died in 2014, highlighting the crucial need to step up efforts to tackle this illegal hunting and protect an iconic species.

Hopefully an international meeting in Botswana in March will decide on immediate action against illegal poaching. Otherwise, many say that the rhino could be extinct by the end of the decade.

Back in September, 2014 was on track to becoming the worst poaching year to date, and now our worst fears have been realized. Approximately 1,215 of these mammals were killed without a permit in 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - that's about 100 rhinos a month. This surpasses the previous record of 1,004 rhinos killed in 2013 by 21 percent, and represents a 93-fold (9,300 percent) increase from the mere 13 killed in 2007 in South Africa.

"We are fast reaching the tipping point for the future viability of rhinoceros," said Jason Bell, Southern Africa director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

One species in particular, the white rhino, cannot afford to wait. One of the last northern white rhinos in the world died last month, leaving only five remaining, all in captivity. And with mating interventions (e.g. artificial insemination) among the breeding population unsuccessful, the extinction of this species seems inevitable.

"Consequently the species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race," the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, which holds the last of the white rhinos, said in a statement.

Several rhino subspecies are listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List - including black rhinos and Asia's Sumatran and Javan rhinos. (Scroll to read on...)

Despite the fact that international trade in rhino horn has been banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) since 1977, the continued, even heightened demand for the product perpetuates these ongoing killings.

Rhino horn dagger handles are worn as status symbols, and their value rose 20-fold in the 1970s, fueling the rhino horn trade, according to the WWF.

After first being grinded up into a powder, rhino horn is also used in black-market "traditional" medicines to treat a variety of ailments such as nosebleeds, strokes and fevers, even though there is no scientific evidence that they have any medicinal value.

And even though they are merely made of keratin - the same protein found in human fingernails - rhino horns are worth as much as $5,550 an ounce on the black market, CNN reports. That's more than the price of gold, platinum, and even cocaine.

Authorities in South Africa have 386 rhino-related crime arrests in 2014, but unfortunately more still needs to be done. Poachers use increasingly sophisticated technology to capture and kill rhinos, and national parks cannot keep up. What's more, rhinos even have to be wary of the park rangers that swore to protect them. In 2012, four national park employees were even caught helping poachers in their illegal dealings, reported the South African-based Wilderness Foundation.

"It is more necessary than ever that South Africa reaches out to the international community for help in combatting this appalling slaughter," Bell asserted. "Only by eliminating demand for rhino horn can we possible hope to slow the slaughter."

Currently, South Africa is home to approximately 20,000 rhinos - more than 80 percent of the global population.

"While there is a growing global momentum to tackle wildlife crime, these record rhino poaching numbers underline just how urgently much more needs to be done. In 2015, we need to keep working together on the strategic interventions which will have the greatest impact and result in the greatest benefits for our rhinos," Dr. Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF-South Africa, said in the WWF press release.

The fate of South Africa's rhinos may be decided when officials meet at a global meeting in Botswana in March to discuss stepping up international action against rhino poaching.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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