The rhinoceros-poaching epidemic that swept across South Africa in 2009 worsened by a staggering 172 percent in 2010, according to national park officials.
In 2009, 122 of the country's rhino’s were killed illegally. That number skyrocketed to 333 in 2010.
The rhino horn is believed to be an aphrodisiac in some Asian cultures. This superstition is unfounded scientifically, but has spurred South African poachers, who have employed helicopters, night-vision equipment and veterinary tranquilizers to acquire the much-valued horns.
Conservation officers have struggled to keep pace with the well-funded poachers.
“Many more successful convictions, backed up by appropriately daunting penalties will significantly demonstrate the South African government’s commitment to preventing the clouding of the country’s excellent rhino conservation track record that it has built up over the past several decades,” said Dr. Morné du Plessis, CEO of World Wildlife Foundation South Africa, in a press release.
South Africa is home to roughly 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world. The population has substantially recovered after all but bottoming out at the end of the 19th century, when only 100 of the thick-skinned animals could be found in South Africa.