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South Africa pledged to increase efforts to combat international syndicates illegally trading rhino horns after a record number of the pachyderms were slaughtered last year amid growing demand in Asia.
Poachers killed a record 1,215 rhinos in South Africa last year, up from 1,004 in 2013, as the country struggles to protect the animals. Demand for rhino horns has climbed in Asian nations, including China and Vietnam, because of a belief they can cure diseases such as cancer.
"It's clear that existing interventions need to be strengthened and we will do so," Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told reporters in Pretoria. South Africa has collaborated with Interpol groups and is now working on "more effective sharing of information between government enforcement agencies," she said.
A majority of the rhinos, 827, were slaughtered in the Kruger National Park, a nature reserve the size of Israel that borders on Mozambique, the Department of Environmental Affairs said. So far in 2015, 49 rhinos have been poached throughout South Africa, Molewa said.
The southern African nation, home to more than 90 per cent of the world's white rhinos, has set up a protection zone within the Kruger Park, introduced new equipment and relocated animals to safer areas in an effort to reduce poaching.
It's also considering advocating the legalization of the global rhino-horn trade to reduce trafficking by syndicates.
The number of alleged poachers, syndicate members and couriers arrested rose to 386 in 2014, a record, from 343 a year earlier, the ministry said.
"Significant progress" has been made implementing anti-poaching measures, including the relocation of rhinos and international collaboration, the minister said. "Nevertheless, the figures remain worryingly high."
While the market for rhino horn is concentrated in Asia, the trade is widespread, Molewa said. In December, 16 members of a horn-smuggling syndicate were arrested in Prague, Czech Republic. The price of rhino horns, more valuable than gold by weight, may range from US$65,000 to as much as $95,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Asia.
"Rhino poaching is now recognized on the international stage as a symptom of growing involvement of sophisticated transnational criminal syndicates," Morne du Plessis, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa, said in an emailed statement. "This battle impacts our national security and economy and will need everyone to work together to combat these threats. There is no time to lose."
-- Bloomberg News