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WWF: Record Rhino Poaching in South Africa

Workers perform a post-mortem on the carcass of a rhino after it was killed for its horn by poachers at the Kruger national park in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, September 14, 2011.
Workers perform a post-mortem on the carcass of a rhino after it was killed for its horn by poachers at the Kruger national park in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, September 14, 2011.

An international wildlife group says rhino poaching in South Africa has hit an all-time high.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) quoted government figures showing Thursday that 341 rhinos have been lost to poaching so far this year, compared with 333 during all of 2010.

South Africa National Parks predicts the number of rhinos poached in 2011 likely will top 400.

Last month, the South African government called poaching a "scourge" that is decimating the rhino population. The government unveiled a program that uses DNA technology to track rhinos and their parts in order to help convict poachers.

The rhinos are usually killed for their horns, which are now worth more than gold. The horns are highly prized in Southeast Asia, where they are often ground up and used in traditional medicines or as aphrodisiacs.

Officials have reported an upsurge in the number of poachers using sophisticated weapons to kill the rhinos and abusing South Africa's trophy-hunting permit system to acquire the horns.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature says more than 90 percent of the world's rhino population is in South Africa.

The WWF said Thursday that Vietnam has become the biggest consumer of illegal rhino horn products. The organization reported a week ago that rhinos are now extinct in Vietnam, in part because of a false rumor that rhino horn can cure cancer.

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