Nearly 200 rhinos were killed in South Africa in the first half of this year, with most slaughtered in the famed Kruger National Park, environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Sunday.
South Africa lost 193 rhinos in the first six months of this year, with 126 of them killed in Kruger, one of South Africa’s top tourist draws, the group said in a statement.
Last year a record 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa, which is home to about 70 percent of the world’s rhino population.
“Poaching is being undertaken almost without exception by sophisticated criminals, sometimes hunting from helicopters and using automatic weapons,” said Joseph Okori, WWF’s African rhino program coordinator.
“South Africa is fighting a war against organized crime that risks reversing the outstanding conservation gains it made over the past century,” Okori said.
South Africa’s success in conservation has made the country a target for well-armed gangs. The military this year has begun patrolling Kruger in an effort to crackdown on poaching.
Authorities have arrested 123 suspected poachers so far this year, with six convictions. However, the stepped-up law enforcement efforts have yet to slow the slaughter.
Poaching has soared from just 13 cases in 2007, an increase powered by demand for rhino horns in Asian traditional medicine.
“We are pleased to see more successful convictions of poachers,” WWF South Africa head Morne du Plessis said.
“Applying strict penalties for wildlife crimes such as rhino poaching will demonstrate the South African government’s commitment to maintaining this important part of the country’s heritage,” du Plessis said.
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