Poaching an increasing problem facing South Africa's rhinoceros population
JOHANNESBURG — Poachers killed a record number of rhinos in South Africa last year and are already on track to surpass that number again in 2010, an expert with the country's national parks said Friday.
David Mabunda, the chief executive officer for the South African National Parks (SANParks), said that rhinos are currently "under siege" from poachers. The horns can fetch more than gold on a per-weight basis, and are highly sought after in Asia for medicinal purposes.
South Africa lost 122 rhinos in 2009, the highest level of rhino poaching the country has experienced. Mabunda said figures for 2010 now stand at 92 and will likely rise despite strong efforts to save the animals. Back in 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached.
SANParks has set up a National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit to deal with the increase, Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica told The Associated Press.
The unit, which includes local and national crime units and anti-poaching experts, will work with South Africa's national prosecutions office to fast-track the investigations of suspects.
This year, 25 suspected poachers have been arrested, including 17 in the Kruger National Park, South Africa's biggest national park.
Five suspected poachers have been arrested in Gauteng and three in Mpumalanga Provinces in the north of the country. All are awaiting trial, SANParks spokeswoman Wanda Mkutshulwa said.
The rhino is labeled as one of the Big Five, a category of must-see animals while on safari -- the buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion being the others.
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-- Tshego Letshwiti, Associated Press
Photo: Rhinos in South Africa's Pilanesberg National Park. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times