South Africa has just recorded the worst year to date for rhino poaching.

The latest statistics from SA National Parks show that more rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the past 10 months than were killed in all of 2010.

The statistics show that 341 of these animals have been lost to poaching so far this year, compared to a record total of 333 last year.

To put this in context, only seven rhinos were poached nationwide in 2000.

South Africa’s grim milestone comes on the heels of an announcement by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) last week that rhinos are now extinct in Vietnam.

The carcass of Vietnam’s last Javan rhino was found with a gunshot wound and without its horn last week.

At a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) last year, the international community concluded that the increase in rhino poaching had been caused largely by the demand for horn products in Vietnam.

“It is hardly surprising that the horn was missing from the last rhino, as Vietnam is the pre-eminent market destination for illegally sourced rhino horns,” said Tom Milliken, rhino programme co-ordinator for the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

Apart from being the biggest consumer of rhino horn, Vietnam is also a major market for tiger parts and other products from endangered species.

“The unfounded rumour that rhino horn can cure cancer most likely sealed the fate of the last Javan rhino in Vietnam,” said A Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian rhino expert.

“This same problem is now threatening other rhino populations across Africa and South Asia. It is tragic that the Javan rhino has been wiped out in Vietnam by the same forces that are driving rhino poaching in Africa,” said Williams.

WWF said last night that South Africa had become the focal point of poaching because it boasted the largest population of rhinos in the world.

In September, a delegation of Vietnamese officials visited South Africa to discuss improving law enforcement cooperation between the two countries.

Last year, Traffic facilitated a similar visit to Vietnam for South African authorities.

“In order to save rhinos from extinction, the criminal syndicates operating between South Africa and Vietnam must be uncovered and shut down for good,” said Joseph Okori, WWF’s African rhino programme co-ordinator. - The Mercury