At least 277 rhinos have been poached since 1 January in South Africa, reported the Department of Environmental Affairs last week.

Just this weekend, three suspected rhino poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park, where more than half of the attacks took place, for carrying a hunting rifle, ammunition and other poaching equipment, informed SANParks.

Last week, two Kruger National Park field guides were charged with conspiracy to kill a rhino and the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.

They are set to appear in court on 16 April.

“We have said from the start of this war, [SANParks] is not an organisation full of angels, but those that involve themselves with criminality will be treated as criminals and shown no mercy,” said SANParks spokesperson Isaac Phaahla.

Around 85 poachers have been arrested so far this year, including 3 rangers.

According to chief executive of the Born Free Foundation Will Tavers, there will be no more free-roaming rhinos by the year 2020 if poaching continues to rise.

From 13 rhinos slaughtered in 2007, the number rose to 1,004 last year.

“There are now just 20,000 white rhino and 5,000 black rhino left in the wild. If poaching carries on at the rate it is now for six more years it will devastate the numbers.

“There will probably be no free-living rhinos as the remaining numbers will be fenced off in military-style compounds which are alarmed and heavily guarded by armed patrols.”

Criminal gangs have taken up rhino poaching to fund themselves. They are making millions a year by killing rhinos and selling their horns to be used as medicine in Asia.

“Poaching is a low-penalty crime and that has to change. We need better intelligence gathering and more equipment and manpower,” Travers added.

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