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KwaZulu-Natal - With an average of 49 rhino poached a month, and with just over one month to go until the end of the year, South Africa could end up with the unenviable figure of 600 – or more – poached rhino in 2012.

The country has lost 588 rhino to poaching so far this year – 140 more than last year’s total of 448.

Since mid-November, 39 rhino have been poached.

KwaZulu-Natal has lost 59 rhino to poaching so far, compared with last year’s total of 34, and 38 in 2010.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Affairs said the Kruger National Park had been the hardest hit, with 362 rhino lost to poaching, while the North West, KZN and Limpopo collectively lost 186.

“If 588 rhino were poached so far, this means for 12 months, there is an average of 49 rhinos poached per month, so it is very likely that this number will exceed 600 by the end of the year,” said Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman, Musa Mntambo.

“We need to be more vigilant and try to better understand how poaching syndicates work in order to bring this number down next year,” he added.

World Wildlife Fund SA head of conservation, Deon Nel, said the country was reaching a worrying level of rhino poaching.

“We are already in excess of last year’s number, despite a lot of work done by various groups,” he said.

He said poaching was an issue that required intervention at a systematic level.

“We need to intervene at various levels and work with governments and civil societies of countries using rhino horn and try to better understand the demand,” he said.

Nel said one of the problems facing the eradication of poaching was the type of arrests made.

According to the department, 246 people have been arrested for rhino poaching this year, compared to 224 last year, and 165 in 2010.

“Those [suspects] that have been arrested so far are too low in the pecking order. The arrests require a more sophisticated understanding of how these syndicates work.”

However, Nel said, despite the worrying number of poached rhino, the rhino population was continuing to grow.

“We need to ensure that this growth continues,” he said.

Daily News