PRETORIA (Reuters) - The poaching of rhinos has risen in South Africa’s Kruger National Park this year but is on the decline elsewhere in the country, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said on Sunday.
The Kruger Park, South Africa’s main tourist draw, is on the frontlines of a surge in rhino poaching for the animal’s horn to meet demand in countries such as Vietnam, where it is a coveted ingredient in traditional medicine.
A record 1,215 rhino were poached in South Africa last year, almost triple the 448 killed in 2011.
Molewa said at a news briefing that as of Aug 27, 749 rhinos were known to have been illicitly killed in South Africa so far in 2015, 544 of them in Kruger. At this time last year, the nationwide total was 716, with 459 killed in Kruger.
Molewa said Kruger was still the epicenter of the crisis.
“Kruger remains a magnet because of numbers. You won’t walk 2 kms in Kruger without coming across a rhino,” she said.
Kruger has the largest concentration of rhinos on the planet, with an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 white rhinos, about half of South Africa’s population of the species.
South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world’s rhino population with about 18,000 white rhinos and close to 2,000 black rhinos.
Fundisile Mketeni, the chief executive of South African National Parks, also pointed to Kruger’s size and topography as attractions to poachers. Kruger is the size of Israel and much of its terrain is remote, making it tough to police.
The park also shares a 450 km (300 mile) border with Mozambique, from where many of the Kruger poachers come.
While incidents are falling elsewhere, the rhino war in Kruger is escalating.
So far in 2015, Molewa said there has been a “27 percent increase in poachers entering the Kruger National Park to attempt to kill rhino.”
There were 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere on the 2 million hectares of the Kruger National Park.
Arrests of suspected rhino poachers in the park are also up to 138 so far in 2015 compared to 81 in the same period last year.
Editing by Angus MacSwan