The number of rhinos killed by poachers has hit a new annual record in South Africa, raising worries of a downward population spiral in a country that is home to almost all of Africa’s rhinos, Reuters reports.
As of the end of September, 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa, exceeding the record of 668 set in 2012, according to data provided by the Environmental Affairs ministry on Tuesday, says Reuters. The greatest threat faced by South Africa’s 22,000 rhinos are poachers trying to cash in on the black market value of their horn, which sells at prices higher than gold, Reuters reports.
Many of the poachers come from neighboring Mozambique. They sell the horn to crime syndicates to supply the increasing demand in Southeast Asia, where the horn is thought by some to cure cancer and tame hangovers, says Reuters. While rhino horn was once seen only as a treatment for royalty, it is now being swallowed by a small segment of the Vietnamese population who can afford prices of about $65,000 per kilogram, conservation groups say, according to Reuters.
“We need people to be ashamed of this. The fact that our rhinos are killed is because there is a market out there. There are people who are coming to steal our heritage,” Fundisile Mketeni, a top biodiversity official at the Environmental Affairs ministry, told Reuters.