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At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said.
The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold, platinum and in many cases coc aine, as a belief - with no basis in science - has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer.
South Africa, home to more than 20,000 rhinos, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.
Quietly, without ritual or public fanfare, the Western Black Rhino this year was officially declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. None are believed left in the wild.
Campaigners in South Africa are urging President Jacob Zuma to uphold a 1993 treaty on international trade in endangered species and to engage with China, Vietnam and Thailand with a view to ending the trade in rhino horn and other animal parts. In September the country’s Department of Water and Environmental Affairs signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam which it hoped would lead to an agreement to help curb rhino poaching in South Africa. China and Thailand have yet to sign any agreement.
In 1997 a baby rhino was found orphaned in a park in KwaZulu-Natal. Christened Toliwe, which means 'one who has been found', the young rhino was bottle fed and, once strong enough, he was sold to an animal trainer who later sold him to Willie Joubert who owns a reserve in the Cradle of Humankind.
Willie Joubert (Rhino owner): 'He actually played in a number of movies, documentaries: 'Wild at Heart' and BBC and then he did the CellC ad as well.
He was a famous rhino.' Toliwe loved people and Willie's children used to ride on his back.
Willie: 'Because he didn't have his natural mom he thought we were his parents.' But sadly Toliwe's trust in people brought him face to face with poachers earlier this year.
Willie: 'The people probably came onto the property, he probably walked towards them, and the guy takes out a blooming rifle and shoots him.'