JOHANNESBURG, Jan 31 – Poachers have killed 57 rhinos from South Africa’s national parks since the beginning of the month, a rate of almost two a day, officials said on Thursday.
Despite stepped up anti-poaching operations, the Department of Environmental Affairs said 42 rhino alone had been poached in Kruger National Park, a vast wilderness that straddled the Mozambique border.
The park authorities blamed the staggering rate on “recent floods in the Kruger National Park, thick vegetation, two weeks of a full moon, aggressive incursions from Mozambique.”
Authorities said 18 suspected poachers have been arrested from January 1, and seven rhino horns recovered.
Some suspects were found in possession of heavy calibre hunting rifles and ammunition.
South African authorities have stepped up anti-poaching operations in the Kruger Park, including deploying the army to the park and a surveillance aircraft.
The South African National Park chiefs executive, David Mabunda believes that anti-poaching operations were starting to yield results, despite increased incursions from Mozambique.
“Our operations are more militaristic. The number of poachers arrested has increased inside and outside the park,” said Mabunda.
The vast Kruger Park, which is the country’s top safari destination, accounts for 40 percent of the world rhino population.
In 2012, a record 668 rhinos were slaughtered in South Africa, due to a booming demand for their horns, which some people in Asia believe have medicinal properties.
The claim is widely discredited.