South Africa: 633 rhinos poached this year

December 19, 2012 - 6:33 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa says at least 633 rhinoceros have been killed this year alone as a poaching epidemic continues to threaten the animals.

South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs issued the new statistics in a statement Wednesday. The statistics show that 395, the majority of the killings, have taken place at the expansive Kruger National Park in South Africa's northeast.

From the 1990s to 2007, rhino killings in South Africa by poachers averaged about 15 a year. However, the number has soared as buyers in Asia now pay the U.S. street value of cocaine for rhino horn.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, a tough protein found in human fingernails. There's a belief in Asia that taking ground-up horn cures diseases. However, no medical evidence supports that.