for National Geographic News
Bloody and incomplete, their horns hacked away by poachers, rhinoceros carcasses are appearing in greater numbers, due to growing Asian demand and international trade, groups say.
In Zimbabwe, for example, gangs of poachers use rifles to shoot the one-ton animals and then hack off the horns with axes, according to an account from Save the Rhino, a London-based conservation group.
Poachers target adults, often leaving behind calves that are too young to survive on their own, the group added.
Investigators say two phenomena are largely to blame: rising demand for rhino horn as medicine and ornamentation plus increasing sophistication among crime rings happy to meet that demand.
"It's a dangerous spike," said Susan Lieberman, the species program director at the international conservation organization WWF.
"At this rate of poaching, we will lose rhino species."
In 2008, for example, an average of 12 rhinos a month were poached in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone.
By contrast, only three rhinos a month were killed, on average, in all of Africa between 2000 and 2005. The African rhino population is currently around 21,500, according to figures compiled by Save the Rhino.
In Asia an estimated ten rhinos this year have been poached in India and seven in Nepal since January (Indian rhinoceros pictures, facts, map, more). The combined rhino population in Asia is approximately 3,050.
Together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, WWF detailed the killings at a meeting on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 9. The convention bans the international commercial trade of almost all rhino species.
Ground up and added to liquids, rhino horn has been used for millennia in traditional Asian medicine to treat fevers and other ailments, Lieberman said.
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