Barbaric poachers killed a record number of rhinoceros last year to help people suffering from hangovers, it emerged today.
The WWF said a staggering 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012 – an increase of almost 50 per cent on the previous year.
And a majority of the deaths – 425 – occurred in the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s premier safari destination.
The rise in poaching animals for their horns has been linked to the growing middle-classes in south-east Asia where they believe the body part has medicinal properties.
Despite no scientific evidence, people use it for a number of different purposes including cancer treatment and as a cure for a hangover.
The lucrative business as been seized upon by highly-organised criminal gangs who sell rhino horns across China and Vietnam for £40,000kg.
Authorities are attempting to clamp down on the cruel crime and heavy sentences are being handed down to people convicted of poaching and smuggling.
There are currently 267 people facing rhino-related charges and in November a Thai man was sentenced to a record 40 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle rhino horns to Asia.
But Sabri Zain, the director of advocacy at the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, has called on countries to clamp down further on the illegal trade.
He said: “Vietnam must curtail the nation’s rhino horn habit, which is fuelling a poaching crisis in South Africa.
“Rhinos are being illegally killed, their horns hacked off and the animals left to bleed to death, all for the frivolous use of their horns as a hangover cure.”
Figures from the WWF showed that in 2010 there were approximately 20,000 white rhinos in Africa – up from fewer than 100 in 1900.
The wildlife charity now regards the white rhino as ‘near threatened’, while there are around 4,880 black rhinos with the WWF saying they’re ‘critically endangered’.
Dr Jo Shaw, WWF-SA’s rhino co-ordinator, added: “Whilst we commend South Africa and Vietnam for signing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding biodiversity conservation, we now need to see a joint rhino plan of action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures.
“There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique.”
The latest figures come in the same week park rangers in Kenya discovered 11 elephants that had been brutally killed for their ivory.
The family was gunned down on Saturday in the single worst incident of ivory poaching recorded in the country.