Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree

South African researchers pilot nuclear technology to tackle rhino poaching


South African researchers have successfully inserted low doses of radioisotopes into 20 live rhinoceros for a six-month study to tackle poaching, a researcher said on Tuesday.

The intention of this Rhisotope Project at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, said James Larkin from the university's Radiation and Health Physics Unit, is to use nuclear technology in the form of small, measured quantities of radioisotopes and to insert these into the rhino horns, which can be picked up by radiation detection portal monitors at international borders, harbors, airports and land-crossings.

Rhinos in South Africa.
Rhinos in South Africa.

Rhinos in South Africa.

Starting on Monday, June 24, Larkin and a team of experts, who are leaders in the world of rhino conservation and veterinary work, carefully sedated the 20 rhinos and drilled a small hole into each of their horns to insert the non-toxic radioisotopes.

Now the researchers will closely monitor the health and vital statistics of the rhinos on a 24-hour basis for the next six months in order to determine the viability of this approach.

According to Larkin, the method causes no harm to the animals while tackling rhino poaching.

"Each insertion was closely monitored by expert veterinarians and extreme care was taken to prevent any harm to the animals. Over months of research and testing we have also ensured that the inserted radioisotopes hold no health or any other risk for the animals or those who care for them," explained Larkin.

If the project is successful, it would be expanded to elephants, pangolins and other fauna and flora. The research will see over 11,000 radiation detection portal monitors being installed at airports, harbors and entry points.

"Every 20 hours in South Africa, a rhino dies for its horn. These poached horns are then trafficked across the world and used for traditional medicines, or as status symbols. This has led to their horns currently being the most valuable false commodity in the black-market trade," Larkin said. "Ultimately, the aim is to try to devalue rhinoceros horn in the eyes of the end users, while at the same time making the horns easier to detect as they are being smuggled across borders."

According to Larkin, every 20 hours in South Africa, a rhino dies for its horn. /CFP
According to Larkin, every 20 hours in South Africa, a rhino dies for its horn. /CFP

According to Larkin, every 20 hours in South Africa, a rhino dies for its horn. /CFP

Lynn Morris, deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation at the University of the Witwatersrand, said they do the research in the hope to make some changes in the world.

"This is an example of how cross-disciplinary research and innovation makes a real difference. This novel approach ... has the potential to eradicate the threat of extinction of our unique wild-life species, especially in South Africa and on the continent," she said.

According to the researchers, the development and application of the Rhisotope Project nuclear technology has the capacity to help deter poaching, increase the detection capabilities of smuggled horns, increase prosecution success, reveal smuggling routes and deter end-user markets.

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency
Search Trends