• Poachers slaughtered almost double the number of Kenyan rhinos in 2013 compared to the year before. (AAP)
Poaching of rhinos in Kenya is on the rise, with the amount taken in 2013 almost double that of the previous year.
Source
AAP
28 Feb 2014 - 3:19 AM  UPDATED 28 Feb 2014 - 9:22 AM

Armed poachers slaughtered almost double the number of Kenyan rhinos in 2013 compared to the year before amid a surge in wildlife killings, government officials say.

At least 59 rhinos were killed for their horns last year, compared to 30 in 2012, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Mbugua said on Thursday.

The rise in poaching - with rhinos even being killed inside the heavily guarded Kenyan capital's national park - show that poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to stem the wave of of killings.

There was more positive news for elephants, with killings down by about a fifth, from 384 killed in 2012 to 302 last year.

But Mbugua said that "poachers have become more aggressive".

"They will stop at nothing to get their target," he said. "If you stand between them and the elephants or rhinos, they will kill you."

About 1030 rhinos are now left in Kenya, and some 38,000 elephants.

Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years, with rhinos and elephants particularly hard-hit. An Interpol report this week said there had been record levels of global ivory seizures worldwide in 2013.

Asian consumers who buy smuggled rhino horn - which is made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails - believe that it has powerful healing properties.

Ivory is sought for jewellery and decorative objects.

Interpol said that criminal gangs are "making millions at the cost of our wildlife with comparatively little risk".

It noted that the seizure of "large-scale ivory shipments - each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants - point to the involvement of organised crime networks operating across multiple countries".

Last month a Kenyan court handed out a record sentence to a Chinese ivory smuggler, the first person to be convicted under a new law, after he was arrested carrying an ivory tusk weighing 3.4 kilograms.

He was ordered to pay $233,000 or be jailed for seven years.

Kenya is also a key transit point for ivory smuggled from across the region.

Africa's elephant population is estimated at 500,000 animals, compared with 1.2 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900, and they are listed as vulnerable.

Safari tours are a key draw for tourism to Kenya, which accounts for 12.5 percent of the country's revenue and 11 percent of jobs.