Story highlights

At least 1,338 rhinos were killed last year

The overall number of rhinos killed is the largest in nearly a decade

South Africa's numbers decreased after aggressive anti-poaching efforts

CNN  — 

The world’s northern white rhinoceros population plunged by a quarter on Sunday with a death at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

At least 1,338 rhinos were killed last year, the largest number since the poaching crisis intensified nearly a decade ago, according to data compiled by an international group.

The number of rhinos killed has gone up in the continent for six years in a row.

Despite the grim statistics, there was a ray of hope in South Africa, where the killings decreased slightly for the first time in years.

Crucial anti-poaching efforts

South Africa showed some improvement after aggressive anti-poaching efforts, but the overall number of rhinos killed increased in other nations.

Of the total number of rhinos killed in the continent last year, about 1,175 were in South Africa. The number is 40 less than rhinos killed in that country the year before.

“This is testimony to the valiant and enormous efforts underway – often against overwhelming odds – to curb the losses,” said Inger Andersen, director general of International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which compiled the data.

“Sadly, these improvements have been dampened by alarming increases in poaching over the past year in other vitally important range states, such as Namibia and Zimbabwe.”

South Africa is home to about 80% of Africa’s rhinos, making it a crucial conservation hub for the iconic animal.

Crime networks join in

The killing of the animal has increased in recent years, fueled by a growing belief in Asia that its horns purportedly cure cancer.

As clients in countries such as China and Vietnam pay top dollar for rhino horns, poachers are getting brutal and sophisticated.

The demand has attracted global crime networks, complicating conservation efforts.

“The extensive poaching for the illegal trade in horn continues to undermine the rhino conservation successes made in Africa over the last two decades,” said Mike Knight, chairman of African rhino specialists for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.