CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The number of poached rhinos in South Africa decreased by 13 animals to 529 between January to June compared with the same period last year, a downward trend welcomed with "cautious optimism" by the government on Monday.
Rhino poaching in South Africa surged from 83 in 2008 to a record 1,215 in 2014 to meet burgeoning demand in newly affluent Asian countries such as Vietnam, where their horns are prized as an ingredient in traditional medicines.
South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world's rhinos, with about 18,000 white rhinos and close to 2,000 black rhinos. It has countered poaching by increased activity by park rangers and tougher jail sentences.
"As we have always stated, these declining numbers do not mean we can proclaim victory. Nevertheless, the downward trend is being established, which is cause for cautious optimism," environment minister Edna Molewa told a media briefing.
A total of 243 rhino carcasses were found in the Kruger National Park, which has traditionally borne the brunt of rhino poaching, down from 354 in January-June last year, but the decrease in Kruger was mostly offset by increased poaching elsewhere.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy)