21% rise in rhino poaching recorded
More than 100 rhinos a month were killed last year in South Africa as the country saw poaching of the animal soar to record highs.
Figures from the South African government showed 1,215 rhinos were killed for their horn in 2014, an average of more than three a day or 100 a month, with the majority - some 827 throughout the year - slaughtered in Kruger National Park.
The figures represent a rise of more than a fifth (21%) on the 1,004 rhino killed in 2013.
Conservationists warned the poaching for rhino horn, driven by demand in Asia and in particular in Vietnam for medicine to treat conditions ranging from cancer to hangovers, was increasingly being run by organised criminal syndicates.
Poaching in South Africa has spiralled from the killing of 13 rhino in 2007, and wildlife experts say the scale of the slaughter means rhino populations in the country could be declining for the first time in nearly a century.
Elisabeth McLellan, head of WWF's wildlife crime initiative, said: "Killing on this scale shows how rhino poaching is being increasingly driven by organised criminal syndicates.
"This country's brave rangers are doing all they can on the ground to protect rhinos but only a concerted global effort can stop this illegal trade.
"This includes South Africa scaling up its efforts to stop wildlife trafficking and Vietnam taking urgent measures to stop illegal use of wildlife products including rhino horn."
Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, warned that the rise in poaching in South Africa seemed to be driven by corruption, problems within institutions in the country and delays in bringing key prosecutions to a conclusion.
Kruger National Park faces particular problems due to its open borders with Mozambique, where poaching syndicates operate with little fear of arrest or prosecution, Traffic said.
Several Kruger park rangers were also arrested last year in connection with poaching incidents, the organisation said.
David Newton, director of Traffic in East and Southern Africa, said: "The lack of strong political will and active leadership from all arms of the government, neighbouring Mozambique and key Asian countries remains a serious impediment to turning this crisis around."
Traffic said the number of animals killed raised concerns that rhino populations in South Africa could be in decline for the first time in nearly a hundred years.
The organisation's elephant and rhino programme leader Tom Milliken warned: "Another year of poaching like 2014 and it becomes increasingly difficult to see a positive conservation future for South African rhinos.
"We're facing a 'do or die' situation right now."