A TOTAL of 1,004 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year — a 50% increase on the number of animals killed the previous year, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Friday.

Of these, 606 were killed in the Kruger National Park, spokesman Albi Modise said in a statement.

Limpopo lost 114 rhinos, Mpumalanga 92, the North West 87 and KwaZulu-Natal 85.

In 2012, 668 of the animals were poached, up from the 448 deaths recorded in 2011.

Scientists have warned that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, the species will be extinct in the wild by midcentury. South Africa is home to more than 80% of the global rhino population.

"Since 2008, 2,778 rhino have been poached in South Africa," Mr Modise said. "The number of rhino poachers arrested during 2013 increased considerably, with 343 arrested, 133 of them in the Kruger National Park."

In 2012, 267 people were taken into custody for poaching.

So far this year, 37 rhinos have been poached and six people arrested.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said recently that the increase in rhino poaching had strengthened the government’s determination to fight it.

"Our rhino population is still viable and stable but it will take a concerted effort to end poaching," she said.

A national rhino fund has been established.

Mr Modise urged South Africans to report poaching by using the anonymous tip-off lines 0800-205-005 and 08600-10111 or by sending an SMS to 32211.

With Sapa and Sue Blaine