Poachers in South Africa reached a milestone in 2013 when they killed more than 1,000 rhinos for their horns.
The harrowing benchmark is a new record for poaching in the African nation. It represents more than a 50 percent increase from the year before, Reuters reports.
South Africa is home to the majority of the world's rhino population, so mass killings of this volume is a dire warning for conservationists, the outlet notes. The theblack rhino is considered "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), while the white rhino is classified as "near threatened." Both subspecies live in South Africa.
The drastic rise in rhino deaths has been tied to skyrocketing demand in Asia for the creatures' horns. Prized for its status as well as its alleged medicinal value, ground up rhino horn is sold as a cure for everything from cancer to diabetes at prices up to $100,000 per kilogram.
Vietnam has proved to have a particularly insatiable demand for the powder, which was reportedly linked to the recovery of a cancer-stricken official, Smithsonian magazine notes.
In an effort to stop poachers, South Africa has turned its park service rangers into soldiers and has even deployed members of the armed forces to the hard-hit rhino habitat of Kruger National Park, the Telegraph reports. Although more than 300 suspected poachers were arrested last year, the criminal operations use sophisticated tactics and resources to elude law enforcement.