Rhinos are being poached "at record rates" for their horns, which could lead to the species' extinction in less than fifteen years.
The number of illegally hunted rhinos this year may reach over 600, surpassing last year's record high of 448. Conservationists estimate that the world rhino population has plummeted 90% since 1970.
"We've certainly reached a tipping point in rhino populations. There is no way that our national populations can sustain the level of poaching," Pelham Jones, chairman of the South Africa Private Rhino Owners Association, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conservation summit in Nairobi.
Selling the horns is a lucrative business; one horn can be worth $60,000 per kilogram, which is more than the price of gold. The horns are sold on the Asian market as a cure for various ailments including cancer, a claim scientists have dismissed.
In the video here, NBC correspondent Rohit Kachroo describes the killing and decimating of the rhino population as "mass murder."
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NAIROBI - Better surveillance and stiffer penalties must be imposed to combat rhino poaching in Africa, which if left unchecked could see the species become extinct in the wild by 2025, regional conservation officials said on Tuesday.
The world's rhino population has declined 90 percent since 1970, conservationists estimate. On the African continent, there are some 20,150 white rhinos that are near threatened and 4,840 black rhinos that are critically endangered.
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The Global Post: Rhino poaching: More rhinos are dying than are being born
South Africa’s rhinos are being poached at record rates, their horns trafficked to Asia to be ground up and used in an attempt to treat cancer and other maladies. Western experts say rhino horns — made of keratin, like fingernails — have absolutely no medicinal value.
Yet the endangered animals are being killed in record numbers. More rhinos are dying than are being born.
A record 448 rhinos were killed in 2011, despite a barrage of efforts to stop the poaching. The number has increased steadily since 2008, when 83 of the animals were killed.
Heavily-armed poachers are cashing in on a high-stakes trade, fuelled by the belief among increasingly rich Chinese and Vietnamese that rhino horn can cure cancer, among other maladies.
Rhino horn fetches up to $65,000 a kilogram in Vietnam and China, according to conservation experts.
Conservationists are shocked the problem has become so grave.