Things are getting worse for rhinos. Much worse. In the past year 455 rhinos were killed in South Africa, more than at any other time in history. And as South Africa is home to 90% of the continent's rhino population, this is a very bad sign. Quite simply, rhinos will go extinct if something doesn't change.
As recently as 2000, only seven rhinos were killed in South Africa. So why are things so much dramatically worse? The short answer: demand. Right now a kilo of rhino horn sells for $65,000 on the streets of Beijing (a higher price than for gold or cocaine), and it seems that China's elite can't get enough.
Traditional oriental medicine has long been a driver of demand, but it's only a part of the equation now. Highly organised criminal syndicates have taken over the rhino horn business, spreading false medical claims and employing mercenaries in South Africa to use high-powered weapons, night vision goggles and helicopters in their hunt for rhino horn.
But it's not all bad news. Already, more than 800,000 people have joined the call on all countries to suspend all trade in all rhino products. Yao Ming, one of China's biggest stars, recently traveled to Africa with WildAid to help shine a light on these needless killings. (Check out his blog for some encouraging thoughts and insights on how to save these creatures.)
What's needed now is for China to enforce its existing ban from 1993, and to make rhino protection a priority in its next five year plan. As the biggest player in this illicit market, China holds the fate of the world's rhinos in its hands.
Sources: BBC, TIME, Avaaz, EIA International, Guardian, New York Times, Yao Ming