Image: Rhinoceros corpse
The corpse of a slaughtered rhino is seen at a national park in South Africa. Rhino horns are used in medicines in parts of Asia.
updated 7/24/2009 12:49:02 PM ET 2009-07-24T16:49:02

South Africa announced sweeping new anti-poaching measures Friday, requiring an ID microchip for all rhinos and rhino horns and bringing in the military to guard the porous border near Kruger National Park.

Wildlife officials also promised to spending more money on rangers and anti-crime measures in South Africa's game-rich national parks after poachers killed 27 rhinos this year.

"Poachers must beware," South African National Parks head David Mabunda said in a statement announcing the $250,000 funding boost. "This is a war we plan on winning."

Conservationists say the leathery herbivores need all the help they can get.

"The situation is bad for rhinos worldwide, in terms of poaching," said Elisabeth McLellan, a species expert with the World Wildlife Federation.

World trade in illegal rhino horns is nearing a 15-year-high, according to a report released this month by the WWF, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC.

Wildlife trade's dark sideRhino are favored by hunters but a more lucrative market lies in the illegal trade of their horns in Asia, where they are ground up and considered aphrodisiacs.

In 2007, 10 rhinos were killed in South Africa; the number jumped to 76 in 2008. This year 27 rhinos — 26 white rhinos and one rare black rhino — have been killed in Kruger National Park.

McLellan said poachers are using increasingly sophisticated — and dangerous — tactics to evade authorities. In July, poachers held a guard at gunpoint and stole more than 20 pounds of horns and ivory from South Africa's Addo Elephant Park.

Poachers are also taking advantage of neighboring Zimbabwe's economic and political instability and the country has seen a sharp increase in the number of rhinos killed in recent years.

South Africa, which has the strongest economy on the continent, is in a better position than many of its neighbors to tackle the poaching problem. But new measures like micro-chipping and increasing ranger patrols will only be effective if regulations are backed up with enforcement, McLellan said.

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