AFRICAN RHINO POACHING HITS RECORD ON ASIAN DEMAND
A record number of rhinos were poached this year in South Africa, home to the greatest number of the animals, as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to increased killings of the threatened species. At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said. The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold, platinum and in many cases cocaine, as a belief--with no basis in science--has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer. South Africa, home to more than 20,000 rhinos, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a result of growing demand for rhino horn in places such as Vietnam and Thailand for traditional medicine. The number of rhinoceroses dying unnatural deaths in South Africa, either through illegal poaching or legal hunts, has reached a level likely to lead to population decline, according to a study by Richard Emslie, an expert in the field. About half of poaching takes place in Kruger National Park, the country's flagship park covering an area about the size of Israel, where soldiers and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in recent months to slow the losses. South Africa, home to over 90 percent of the rhinos in Africa, grants licenses for legal hunts, with a growing number of the horns then mounted as trophies, shipped to Asia, and sold on the black market, according to police and customs officials. For the full story, see http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/12/30/us-safrica-rhinos-idUKTRE7BT0AU20111230.