Fears are growing for the survival of the rhinoceros as the last female in the popular Krugersdorp game reserve near Johannesburg was killed, bleeding to death after having its horn hacked off by poachers.
Wildlife officials say poaching for the prized horns has now reached an all-time high. "Last year, 129 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. This year, we have already had 136 deaths," said chief game ranger Japie Mostert.
The gang used tranquilizer guns and a helicopter to bring down the nine-year-old rhino cow. Her distraught calf was moved to a nearby estate where it was introduced to two other orphaned white rhinos.
Wanda Mkutshulwa, a spokeswoman for South African National Parks, said poaching was rife in the 1,500-hectare Kruger park. Five men had been arrested there in the past week alone, four of whom were caught with two bloodied rhino horns, AK-47 assault rifles, bolt-action rifles and an axe.
Rhino horn consists of compressed keratin fiber which is similar to hair. Continued high demand for rhino horn in many Asian cultures (where it is used as a fundamental ingredient in traditional medicines) drives poaching and illegal trafficking in Rhino horns.