Game Reserve in Eastern Cape using new method to deter Rhino poachers

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Rhinos Igor and Denver are having trace amounts of non-radioactive, stable isotopes inserted in a hole made in their horns at the Buffalo Kloof Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
Researchers are working on a potentially new method to deter rhino poachers and smugglers by using radioactive markers to make smuggled horns detectable at global ports of entry and less desirable to buyers.
South Africa is home to the world’s largest rhino population but has battled poaching for decades. The rhino horn is one of the most expensive commodities in the world by weight, fetching hundreds of thousands of rands per kilogram.
Demand is mainly from Asia where rhino horns are believed to have potent medicinal properties and are also a symbol of wealth.
The study, a collaboration between the University of Witwatersrand and a global team of scientists and funded by Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom, is not using radioactive material on the animals yet, but hopes to if proven safe.
“We hope to establish a reduction in poaching, we want to do this by injecting radioactive, a small quantity of radioactive isotopes into the horns of rhino. This we hope will have two effects, one it will devalue the rhino horn in the eyes of the end user, the person who’s kind of buying it in the far East, because if we make it radioactive people are going to be less incline to want to own something like that because rhino horn is used for a number of different things,” said James Larkin, director at the radiation and health physics unit at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
The study will gather samples from the animals over the next three months to understand how the isotope interacts within the horn while assessing the animals’ behaviour and health, Larkin said.
Poachers often shoot the rhino with high-powered hunting rifles before removing the horn from the skull with a knife.
South Africa has about 16 000 rhinos located within its borders, the environmental ministry told Reuters in May.
But relentless poaching and a drought in the North-East region has hit the rhino population hard.
In the Kruger National Park, the number of rhinos has plummeted almost more than two thirds in the last decade to around 3 800 in 2019 from 11,800 rhinos in 2008, according to a South African National Parks report.
The project could provide an alternative to de-horning where the animals are tranquilised before the horn is cut off to prevent poaching, which needs to be done around every 18 months. By contrast, radioactive markers would only need to be inserted every five years, Larkin said.
Despite a 30% decline in rhino poaching in 2020 due to lockdown and travel restrictions in South Africa, poachers still killed nearly 400 rhinos for their horns.

Efforts to save the Rhino against poaching: