Over the past several years, South Africa's rhino poaching problem has turned into a full-blown crisis. Last year, the country lost more than a thousand rhinos to poachers, their hacked-off horns destined mostly for consumption in Asia as an ingredient in various traditional medicines and to supply demand from wealthy consumers in Vietnam, where possession of horn is increasingly seen as a symbol of status. With World Rhino Day approaching on 22 September, our Top 10 this week is dedicated to highlighting some of the horn trade's most shocking figures.  


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The price of rhinoceros horn has increased to around US$60,000 per kilogram, according to a recent report. Image: Reuters

US$60,000 is the estimated per-kilogram worth of rhino horn on the black market, according to a report by US-based strategy and policy advisory firm Dalberg. That sizeable sum makes it a commodity that's much more lucrative than gold and platinum – and more valuable on the black market than diamonds and cocaine. The price tag is even more shocking when you consider its rapid upsurge in recent years: in 2006, the value stood at around $760. The same Dalberg report puts the total value of illicit wildlife trafficking (excluding fisheries and timber) as between US$7.8 billion and US$10 billion per year. 


If poaching levels continue to accelerate, Africa's remaining rhino populations may become extinct in the wild within just 20 years, according to estimates included in a paper published in the journal Science last year. 


The number of rhinos poached in South Africa in 2014 at the time of writing. South African poaching rates have been increasing exponentially in recent years, reaching a high of 1,004 last year, from just 13 (officially recorded) poaching incidents in 2007. IUCN estimates that poaching claims, on average, one rhino every 15 hours. 


That's the number of western black rhinos (Diceros bicornis longipes) left on the planet. Although this rhino subspecies once roamed across a vast territory that stretched across a chunk of the African continent, including Sudan, Chad and Nigeria, its populations were decimated, largely by unprecedented levels of poaching between 1960 and 1995 to feed demand for traditional medicine in China. By 2006, extensive surveys failed to unearth any signs of the these rhinos and just a few years later (in 2011), the IUCN declared the subspecies extinct. Today, several other members of the rhino family are on the brink, with fewer than 50 Javan rhinos remaining.  


The number of rhino horns, potentially worth around $14,6-million, stolen from a South African tourism organisation earlier this year. This was not the first horn heist of its kind: last year, 66 horns were stolen from a South African game reserve. Record horn prices have been compelling criminals to exploit every possible avenue to obtain the lucrative commodity, with horn specimens vanishing from several European museums and even private collections in recent years.


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Poachers were responsible for more than half of ranger deaths globally over the past two years, according to the IUCN. Image: Reuters

As of July 2014, this was the number of park rangers worldwide killed in the line of duty over the preceding 12-month period, according to the International Rangers Federation. 27 of these deaths occurred in Africa and 80% were at the hands of poachers. These were deaths voluntarily reported from 35 countries only – the IRF estimates that the global figure could be two to three times higher. "Poachers do not hesitate to fire upon our park rangers. In some countries they are involved in a bush war as intense as any modern conflict," says Gabon president and patron of the IUCN World Parks Congress Ali Bongo Ondimba.


This is the jail term in years recently imposed on a convicted rhino poacher in South Africa, one of the heaviest punishments handed out by the country's courts. Previous hefty penalties have included a 40-year jail term imposed on a Thai national back in 2012. Despite this, the Dalberg report notes that legal penalties are generally not aligned with the value of rhino horn, adding that poachers who are caught in South Africa "are apt to be fined about $14,000 while cocaine traffickers wind up in jail for five years". 


The number of rhinos that are to be relocated from South Africa to a safe haven in Botswana over the next year to create a 'reserve' population in the face of spiralling poaching levels in the former country. The ambitious project – Rhinos without Borders – was spearheaded by documentary film-makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert and will see the animals moved to a secret location in Botswana, which has the lowest poaching rates on the continent. 

8.8 million

US$5.8-8.8 million is the estimated price tag for a once-off dehorning of all the rhinos in South Africa's Kruger National Park, home to the largest rhino population on the planet. Dehorning is considered effective only when coupled with extensive anti-poaching, security and monitoring efforts. In addition, it needs to be repeated every 12-18 months as horns grow back over time (with recent studies claiming that the re-growth of dehorned rhino horn appears faster than growth in non-dehorned rhinos). These factors help explain why conservation groups say the tactic should "only be considered when absolutely necessary to protect rhinos which are exposed to the highest levels of poaching risk". Another costly and highly invasive (and controversial) anti-poaching strategy is rhino horn infusion. At an estimated $1,200 per rhino, it involves injecting poisoned dye into the horn of a live rhino, rendering it useless for medicinal or ornamental use. 

50 million

A truly ancient family, rhinos have been lumbering across the earth for around 50 million years. With poaching levels at current highs, we could lose these amazing animals in a minuscule fraction of that time.  

Top header image: H20 Alchemist, Flickr