Exclusive: Rhino Poaching in Africa Spiked by 9,000 Percent in Seven Years, Devastating Report Shows

As many of us are aware, African mammals are under threat from poachers. Illegal hunters go after endangered elephants, rhinos, leopards, and other animals for their tusks, horns, and hides. With decades of slaughter in the Kenya and South Africa, it's hard to visualize how many lives have been lost.

But a new report from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) indicates the problem may be worse than previously thought, particularly when it comes to the rhinoceros. According to the report, rhino poaching increased by more than 9,000 percent between 2007 and 2014, increasing from 13 animals per year to 1,215 per year. The report, "Poaching Deaths: Visualized,"illustrates the staggering numbers.

Rhinoceros poaching has skyrocketed in recent years. African Wildlife Fund / http://www.awf.org/campaigns/poaching-deaths-visualized/

AWF is a wildlife conservation organization focused on protecting large African animals and the people who live among them, so it's important to note that they provide these graphs with an animal-centric goal. However, their data come from Poachingfacts.com, an independent research group that claims neutrality, and is unaffiliated with political, business, or environmental organizations.

According to this data, South Africa and Kenya are hot spots for elephant and rhino poaching particularly. As shown in the video above, poachers illegally killed 1,948 elephants and 6,296 rhinos between January 2005 and January 2017. 2008, 2010, and 2016 were particularly bloody years for the big, gray herbivores.

The rise of poaching in Kenya. African Wildlife Fund / http://www.awf.org/campaigns/poaching-deaths-visualized/

At least abroad, elephants have the public on their side. These enormous pachyderms are the subjects of many studies on animal intelligence and increasing legislation to protect them from the ivory trade, the illegal side of which fuels poaching. China, the world's biggest ivory market, has agreed to shut down its state-sanctioned ivory carving studios by the end of the year for fear that the legal trade masks the illegal trade in elephant tusks. The shutdown means that authorities won't have to distinguish between legal ivory and illegal ivory; anyone caught selling them faces legal recourse, period.

Rhinos, while also beloved and legally protected, haven't had quite the number of protective bans. In fact, a legal auction of their horns took place in August. (Those horns were not from poached rhinos, and there is controversy about whether legal rhino horn harvests help or hurt rhinos.) According to the AWF data, poached rhinos in South Africa and Kenya outnumber poached elephants by more than three-to-one. There are about 30,000 rhinos of all species left alive, and 475,000-740,000 Asian and African elephants left.

Poachers target these animals in particular because of their ornamentation. Ivory is a prized material in China, sought for its durability and ability to be carved for traditional statues and jewelry. Rhino horn is sought primarily in China and Vietnam for medicinal or decorative purposes. But research has not confirmed the beneficial effects of rhino horn noted in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Because elephants and rhinos are usually considered "charismatic megafauna," they often garner recognition that leads to protective measures. But legal protection for these animals shifts constantly. Only time will tell if they will ever have a stable population, or risk extinction.

A Kenya Wildlife Service officer pours gasoline onto a heap of more than 10 tons of elephant ivory and rhino horns which was set fire today to help stem illegal ivory trade. The ivory has a street value of over one million US dollars. Corrine Duffka / Reuters