A total of 556 – that is how many rhinos are expected to be killed by poachers by the end of the year unless a breakthrough is made, say the Hawks.

This number was revealed at the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) first National Rhino Conservation Dialogue in Midrand this week.

The conference brought together a host of government officials, organisations and experts to find a solution to the rhino poaching crisis, which has escalated in recent months.

As of Monday, 227 rhinos had been killed this year, of which 137 had died in the Kruger National Park.

“Based on a formula using the daily rate of rhinos killed, we forecast that 556 will be killed by the end of the year unless there are significant arrests,” said Colonel Johann Jooste of the Hawks.

It would make 2012 the deadliest year for SA’s rhinos.

Last year, 448 were brutally killed. Another 333 were killed in 2010.

About 150 arrests have been made in connection with rhino poaching since the beginning of the year.

It’s this upsurge in poaching that triggered yesterday’s talks, said the DEA’s rhino issue manager, Mavuso Msimang.

“Why are more rhinos being killed now than five years ago? What do we do? These are all questions the department seeks answers on,” he said.

SA has deliberated two memoranda on combating rhino poaching with Vietnam and China, two of the countries fuelling the consumer demand for rhino horn, which is ground up and used in traditional medicines.

According to the DEA, the content of the memoranda has been agreed upon and each needs only the ceremonial signatures of the various ministers involved.

Their next target? Thailand.

Discussions also revolved around the possibility of legalising the trade in rhino horn as a means of combating poaching, though the DEA has yet to reveal its stance on the issue.

lSouth Africans are urged to report incidents of rhino poaching or provide any tip-offs that could lead to arrests and the prevention of illegal killings to 0800 205 005. - The Star