South Africa, home to almost all of the world’s rhinoceroses, said the number of the animals killed by poachers plunged by 25 percent last year as it stepped up efforts to save the endangered species.
With 769 rhinos poached, it was the first year since 2012 that less than 1,000 of the animals were killed illegally, the Department of Environmental Affairs said in a statement. The animals are targeted for their horns, which are believed in Asia to help cure cancer and boost male virility. The horns are made of keratin, a hair-like substance. The number of rhino deaths peaked at 1,215 in 2014.
The fight against rhino poaching in South Africa has become emblematic of the global struggle against wildlife traffickers, with national awareness campaigns ranging from documentaries to the sale of plastic horns, which are attached to people’s cars.
The decline in rhino deaths is “a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species,” said Minister of Environmental Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane, who is also known as Mama Action.
More than half of the rhinos were killed in Kruger National Park, a reserve the size of Israel that lies on South Africa’s border with Mozambique. Poachers frequently cross the border and hunt the animals with automatic weapons and night sights before sawing off the horns.
During the year, 365 alleged poachers were arrested countrywide along with 36 horn traffickers, the department said.