PRETORIA (AFP) - South Africa plans to evacuate hundreds of rhinos from the famed Kruger National Park to safe havens out of horn smugglers' reach, the environment minister announced Tuesday.
"A decision has been made on this issue of translocation," said Ms Edna Molewa, announcing an action plan to curb spiralling illegal hunts for rhino horn.
"Relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds could allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow," she said.
The authorities "could relocate up to 500" rhinos, which can weigh a tonne or more, said South African National Parks ecologist Sam Ferreira.
Illegal rhino killings have spiked from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 last year, steadily increasing despite the deployment of soldiers in the vast nature reserve, which is roughly the size of Wales or Israel.
The animals' horns - which is the same material as finger nails - are coveted by Asian middle classes who use it as status symbol.
There are thought to be as few as 8,400 white rhino left in Kruger Park.
Now some rhinos will be moved from areas of high poaching activity inside the Kruger - such as the eastern boundary which forms the border with Mozambique.
The alternative strongholds include other state-owned provincial parks, private parks and communal areas. Neighbouring countries are also being considered as hosts, according to the environmental ministry.