Despite a global push to protect Africa's most iconic species from avoidable extinction, the elicit trade in animal parts shows no signs of slowing -- and there's a sickening trail of blood to prove it.
In just the first two weeks of 2012, poachers in South Africa had slaughtered nearly as many rhinos that had been killed in all of 2007, putting it on track to being one of the deadliest years from the endangered species in recent memory. Sadly, as 2012 enters its final month, the grim predictions have been confirmed with 588 rhinos killed as of this writing, expected to reach 600 by year's end.
The well over a thousand rhinos killed in recent years has been driven primarily by the market for their horns in Asia, where they can fetch nearly $100 thousand per kilo for their supposed 'medicinal' qualities. A burgeoning wealthy class, mostly in China, is believed to be among the main consumers on the deadly black market.
In light of the rising demand for rhino horns, poaching has spiked as well. The resulting slaughter, experts warn, is inherently unsustainable as rhino death rates now exceed births.
"Villagers are at the bottom of the chain and can earn several months income through two or three days of poaching. Huge amounts of money is in circulation,” says Dr. Joseph Okori, of the World Wildlife Fund. "The rhino faces extinction within 10 years if we do not reverse this trend.”