In a report issued this month, Global wildlife monitoring network, TRAFFIC, warned that if current poaching rates continue, 515 rhinos could perish by the end of the year in South Africa if no action is taken to stem the illicit trade in rhino horns.

South African rhino (Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

South Africa is home to about three quarters of Africa’s 20,000 or so white rhinos and 4,800 critically endangered black rhinos. In recent years the country has witnessed an unprecedented spike in sophisticated, violent and organized rhino-related criminal activities. Last year 448 rhinos were killed compared to 13 animals in 2007.

South Africa has lately scaled up its fight against illegal poaching and trade in rhinos horns, arresting 176 suspects so far this year, more than the 165 arrested in the 12 months of 2010. But even with the successful stories of high-value arrests and with anti-poaching security levels stepped up, the criminal syndicates and poaching gangs have become increasingly sophisticated and more aggressive.

The report named Vietnam as the worst offender fuelling the trade in the black market for rhino horns. The ground horn, which is believed by some to cure cancers, has taken on a new use and is now being pushed as a recreational drug mixed with drinks in the belief that it cures hangover.

Rhino crimes are receiving heavier sentences and South Africa now has a dedicated prosecutor to handle such crimes. In a promising development, South Africa and Vietnam are reportedly set to sign a landmark deal to help stem rhino poaching and the illicit trade in horns.

TRAFFIC’s report also described a worrying development where game ranch operators and custodians of rhinos have linked up with the crime syndicates and become major dealers in rhino horn.

Source: Susan Njanji for Mother Nature Network: