The South African government has released a new report documenting a record number of rhinoceros killings last year – evidence of a fast-growing poaching wave that threatens the very existence of an already rapidly disappearing animal.
ABC News reports South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs says 1,004 rhinos were killed in 2013, an increase of 336 animals over the prior year, and the highest number of deaths since the agency began recording the fatalities.
The recent spike reportedly marks a vast departure from prior years, as only 36 rhinos were killed by poachers during the entire 16-year period spanning 1990 to 2007.
“These criminal networks are threatening our national security and damaging our economy by frightening away tourists,” Jo Shaw, a representative of the World Wildlife Fund’s South Africa chapter, reportedly said in a written statement.
“Rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking are not simply environmental issues, they represent threats to the very fabric of our society.”
The news comes just one week after the Dallas Safari Club made headlines by auctioning off a permit to hunt a black rhino in the African nation of Namibia. The club says the permit was auctioned to raise money for efforts to protect and conserve the species.
The winner, Corey Knowlton of Texas, has since said he's had to hire full-time security due to death threats against him and his family after his name was leaked via the Internet.
ABC News cites the World Wildlife Fund in reporting only about 25,000 rhinos remain in Africa -- an incredible reduction from the more than 1 million that lived there at the turn of the 20th century.
Most of the survivors are reportedly located in South Africa -- and most of the poaching occurred in the nation’s Kruger National Park, a wildlife refuge, despite the recent addition of more park rangers and surveillance aircraft, like unmanned drones.