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Killing on this scale shows rhino poaching is being increasingly undertaken by organised criminal syndicates," says Dr Carlos Drews, who directs WWF's global species programme. "The country's brave rangers are doing all they can to protect the rhinos but only a concerted global effort can stop this illegal trade. This includes South Africa scaling up its efforts to stop the poaching and Vietnam taking urgent measures to reduce consumer demand."

South Africa is home to approximately 20,000 rhinos - more than 80% of Africa's rhino population.

Recently, there have been a number of law enforcement successes in South Africa, thanks largely to the dedication and commitment of rangers. In December, the leader of the largest rhino-poaching syndicate in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province was arrested in a joint operation between security forces and anti-poaching units.

"While there is a growing global momentum to tackle wildlife crime, these record rhino poaching figures underline how much more needs to be done - and how urgently," says Elisabeth McLellan, who heads WWF's initiative to tackle wildlife crime.

"All eyes will now be on the next major conference on the illegal wildlife trade in Botswana in March, where governments from around the world will take further steps to fight the trade and save the rhino - and other critical species - from international traffickers," McLellan added.

The Botswana Conference is the follow-up to 2014's influential London Conference on the illegal wildlife trade, where 41 governments and the EU agreed to take decisive and urgent action to tackle the global illegal wildlife trade.