There has been a draatic increase in cases of rhino poaching in the Eastern South African province of KwaZulu-Natal this year, with at least 159 of the endangered animals having been killed, says the spokesperson for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Resort, Musa Mntambo.

“There has been a big increase in the number of rhino killed. Our arrests have also increased,” says Mntambo, who adds that October and November have seen an increase in rhino poaching across the province.

He said Tuesday that there had been 129 arrests during 2016 in relation to rhino poaching in the province compared with 97 in 2015.

By early November 2016, the Mercury newspaper reported, 132 rhinos had been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, which means that 27 rhinos have been killed in the past two months alone. The dramatic increase in the number of rhinos lost to poaching has prompted KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu to announce the formation of an Anti-Rhino Poaching Task Team.

In 2014 there were 99 rhinos poached while in 2013 it was 85; and in 2012 it was 66; in 2011 it was 34 and in 2010 it was 38.

In October, Ezemvelo chief executive David Mabunda told lawmakers that the moratorium on new appointments of game wardens was having a negative effect on anti-poaching activities. At the time there were 179 vacant posts in Ezemvelo, but Mntambo said on Tuesday that earlier in December advertisements had been placed and the organization was hopeful that it could fill some of the vacancies.

Rhino poaching has escalated to alarming levels over the past decade with only 13 rhino officially being reported as having been poached in South Africa in 2007.

In 2014, statistics compiled by the non-governmental organization, Save the Rhino, showed the figure had peaked at 1,215 and dropped slightly last year to 1,175. That is about a

9,000 per cent increase in less than a decade.