Rhino killing surges in South Africa, authorities report organized crime, big money involved

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African wildlife authorities say poachers killed 152 endangered rhinoceros in the country so far this year, about 20 more than the number killed in the whole of 2009.

The National Parks Authority says that the alarming escalation of poaching has put security agencies on high alert. The eastern Kruger National Park alone lost 65 white rhinos and one black rhino, a much rarer species, this year.

The authorities said in a statement Wednesday that the surge in illegal killings shows the unprecedented involvement of organized crime and reflected new levels of "sophistication, violence, precision and the money behind it."

Rhino horn is prized in Asia for its purported medicinal properties. The horn is fashioned into ceremonial dagger handles in the Middle East.