2011 is shaping up to be one of the worst years on record for rhinos. Poachers in South Africa have already killed 193 of the animals in the first six months of this year alone -- that's according to conservation group WWF. This grim uptick in rhino killing puts 2011 on track to surmount last year's record poaching rate. And although over 100 have been arrested, convictions remain staggeringly few as the problem continues to grow.The WWF reports that of the 193 rhinos poached so far this year, 126 animals were killed in South Africa's Kruger National Park, one of the largest wildlife preserves on the continent and home to over half the rhinos on the planet. Last year, rhinos faired little better, with 333 of the animals having been killed by poachers -- though sadly the trend may be spreading.
According to a statement from the WWF obtained by Bloomberg News, illegal hunters have been taking advantage of South Africa's border with Swaziland in order to avoid detection. Nevertheless, authorities have managed to apprehend 123 poachers this year, but only six have so far been successfully prosecuted.
Equally as troubling as South Africa's rising rate of rhino deaths is the fact that poachers appear to be targeting animals in regions where they haven't in years; For the first time in nearly 20 years, poachers have killed a rhino in Swaziland.
"We cannot allow poaching to proliferate across rhino range countries," says WFF African Rhino Program coordinator Joseph Okori. "Swift prosecutions of wildlife crimes and strict sentences for perpetrators will serve as a deterrent to potential criminals. Poachers should be shown no leniency."
Rhinos are mainly targeted for their horns which are believed to have medicinal properties in some Asian cultures -- despite the fact that they are mainly keratin, like fingernails.
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