February 29, 2012 / 12:06 PM / in 6 years

Four S.Africa game park staff arrested over rhino poaching

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Four staff members at South Africa’s flagship Kruger National Park have been arrested on suspicion of killing rhinos and selling their horns to criminal syndicates, the park service said on Wednesday.

A newly born baby Eastern Black Rhinoceros calf stands with her mother in their enclosure at Chester Zoo in England, May 18, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Home to more than 90 percent of the continent’s rhinos, South Africa is on the front line of a worsening war with poachers who send the horns to China and Southeast Asia for use in traditional medicine.

“...the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched as far as to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage,” parks chief David Mabunda said.

Poachers killed a record 448 rhinoceroses in South Africa last year and have alredy killed 80 this year. The government has sent troops to the 19,500 square km (7,500 square mile) Kruger Park - about the size of Israel - which is home to thousands of the animals, in a bid to reduce the slaughter.

A decade ago South Africa had more than 20,000 rhinos and was losing about 15 a year to poachers.

But poaching has increased dramatically in the last few years as the spread of wealth in places like Vietnam and Thailand has enabled more people to buy powdered rhino horn, a prized ingredient in traditional medicine, though it has no proved benefits.

The street value of rhino horn is higher than that of gold in many parts of Southeast Asia.

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