Poachers in South Africa have killed 281 endangered rhinos in the first six months of the year, the country’s Environment Department said Tuesday. More than half the killings took place at Kruger National Park, with 164 rhinos lost in illegal poaching attacks there. So far 176 people have been arrested this year in connection with rhino poaching, the department said.

The number of rhino poaching deaths in South Africa has risen astronomically from an average of about 15 before 2008 to an unprecedented 448 last year, the Examiner reports. Experts predict 600 rhino poaching deaths by the end of this year.

South Africa is home of the largest rhino population in the world. There are believed to be more than 20,000 rhinos roaming the country. But if poachers continue to kill the animal at the current rate, rhinos could go into decline by 2016 and become extinct in the wild by 2050, South African National Parks wildlife veterinary services head Markus Hofmeyr told the Examiner.

The sharp rise in illegal poaching deaths can be contributed to the soaring demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is used in medicine to relieve cancer symptoms, according to the Examiner.

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