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South Africa's Rhino Population May Be in Decline for the First Time in Nearly a Century

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BY ERIN CONWAY-SMITH / GlobalPost

Authorities have started to relocate dozens of rhinos from poaching “hot spots” to safer locations.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The situation for South Africa's rhinos just keeps getting worse.

On Thursday, the government announced rhinoceros poaching statistics for 2014, and it was another record year: 1,215 rhinos slaughtered illegally for their horns, a 21 percent increase from 1,004 in 2013.

3_rhinoAs in previous years, hardest hit were the rhinos at South Africa's famed Kruger National Park, home to the world's largest rhino population and the top target for organized crime groups, some of which operate from across the park’s open border with Mozambique.

More than two thirds of the animals poached in 2014 were killed in the park — a shocking 827 rhinos, according to South Africa's environmental affairs ministry.

In 2007, just 13 rhinos were killed by poachers. That number has increased dramatically every year since, fueled by lucrative demand in Vietnam and China where rhino horn is considered “traditional medicine,” and used to treat everything from cancer to a hangover despite no proof of any medicinal effect.

Out of desperation, South Africa has started to relocate dozens of the Kruger park's rhinos from poaching “hot spots” to safer locations, and last year even moved more than 100 to neighboring states for protection.

The reasons for the continuing rise in poaching — despite increased efforts to combat the problem — are complicated, but include corruption, institutional turmoil and judicial delays in key prosecutions, according to TRAFFIC, which monitors international trade in wildlife.

The number of animals being killed raises concerns that South Africa's rhino population may be in decline for the first time in nearly a century, the group said in a statement, meaning that more rhinos are dying than are being born.

“The lack of strong political will and active leadership from the government, neighboring Mozambique and key Asian countries remains a serious impediment to turning this crisis situation around,” said David Newton, TRAFFIC’s director in east and southern Africa.

(photos: andy towle)


Angry Hippo Chases Speedboat: VIDEO

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A speedboat operator in Chobe National Park in Kasane, Botswana discovered why it's not wise to get too close to hippopotami in the wild.

They're very territorial. And they swim very fast.

Check out his incredible video, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Hikers 'Walk On Water' In Slovakia: VIDEO

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ABC News shared a YouTube video on Tuesday of Two Hikers walking on stunningly crystal clear, frozen ice in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia.

Check it out if you haven't already, AFTER THE JUMP...

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A Great Horned Owl Was Spotted Doing the Breast Stroke in Lake Michigan: VIDEO

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A Great Horned Owl was forced into Lake Michigan by two Peregrine falcons at Loyola Park Beach in Rogers Park, Chicago. According to the guy who shot the clip, it eventually got out and flew away.

Wrote the videographer: "Hey, I had no idea it would go viral or I would have made it ten or twenty seconds...I didn't see the falcons knock it in, and had no idea when it would come out, and when it finally did I was busy standing between it and the Peregrines as they were dive-bombing it something fierce."

Watch the strange 8-second sight, AFTER THE JUMP...

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WATCH: Massive Hammerhead Shark Stalks Kayakers for 2 Miles Off South Florida Coast

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In an impressive display of not freaking out and/or becoming paralyzed by fear, Palm Beach kayakers Mark Naumovitz and Brian Nelli managed to catch this incredible (read: terrifying) footage of a 13-foot hammerhead shark stalking their boats for two whole miles off the South Florida coast. 

Nelli also spoke with local CBS station WPEC about the close encounter with the unexpected visitor:

"We figured he was more inquisitive to see what we were...he gave us a few bumps to check us out."

Check out the footage and interview, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Stunning Video Shows Baby Elephant Fend Off 14 Lions: WATCH

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In case you're feeling beset upon at work or in your personal life today, here's a bit of inspiration for you: stunning video showing a young elephant successfully fending off 14 lions as they try to attack and kill it. A remarkable feat that may just leave you feeling empowered and ready to take on the world.

Watch as the elephant shows these lions who's the boss, AFTER THE JUMP...

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