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JOHANNESBURG – (AFP) – More than 30 rhinos have been killed in South Africa over the past two weeks, taking to 488 the toll of the pachyderms slaughtered this year to satisfy a booming Asian demand for their horns, the government said Tuesday.
“A total of 488 rhinos have been lost to illegal killings since the beginning of this year,” said a government statement, up from 455 reported killed on October 16.
The 33 “were killed over the past two weeks,” environmental affairs spokesman Albi Modise told AFP.
South Africa, home to the world’s largest rhino population — more than 18,000 white rhino and around 1,600 critically endangered black rhino — has seen a dizzying spike in the pace of rhino killings.
The animals’ distinctive horns are hacked off to be smuggled to the Asian black market where the fingernail-like substance is falsely believed to have powerful healing properties.
The horn is touted as a potent aphrodisiac and even a cure for cancer.
Authorities have so far arrested 214 suspects in connection with the killings.
Last year, a total of 448 rhinos were poached, up from 333 in 2010 and just 13 in 2007
Most of the rhinos are killed in the world-famous Kruger National Park and their horns turn up on the black market in Vietnam, China and other east Asian nations where they are literally worth their weight in gold.