South African wildlife experts are calling for urgent action against poachers after the last female rhinoceros in a popular game reserve near Johannesburg bled to death after having its horn hacked off.
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 Japie Mostert, chief game ranger at the 1,500-hectare Krugersdorp game reserve.
The gang used tranquilliser 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 investigations into the growing number of incidents had been shifted to the country's organised crime unit. "We are dealing with very focused criminals. Police need to help game reserves because they are not at all equipped to handle crime on such an organised level,'' she said.
Rhino horn consists of compressed keratin fibre – similar to hair – and in many Asian cultures it is a fundamental ingredient in traditional medicines.
Hunting - killing innocent animals for sport or fun is despicable. Killing endangered species is just as wicked. Even worse is the manner in which they are killed.
The Observer caption "The last rhinoceros cow in Krugersdorp park, South Africa, bled to death on Wednesday after poachers hacked off her horn. Photograph: Reuters"