The Use of Radioactive Material to Protect Rhinos from Poaching

In a groundbreaking initiative to combat poaching and protect rhinos, South African scientists have undertaken a unique approach by injecting radioactive material into live rhino horns. The aim of this project is to make the horns easier to detect at border posts, ultimately deterring poachers who are driven by the demand for these horns in traditional medicine practices in Asia. This innovative method is spearheaded by James Larkin, the director of the University of the Witwatersrand’s radiation and health physics unit.

During the procedure, the scientists injected “tiny little radioactive chips” into the rhino horns, rendering them essentially poisonous for human consumption. The dose of radioactive material used is so low that it does not harm the rhinos or the environment in any way. In addition, the material is designed to last for five years, making it a more cost-effective solution compared to dehorning the rhinos every 18 months.

The project, known as the Rhisotope project, involves administering the radioactive material to twenty live rhinos, which will enable them to set off detectors at international border posts. This heightened level of detection is crucial in curbing the illicit trade of rhino horns, as they are highly sought after on black markets where their price rivals that of gold and cocaine. By making the horns detectable, the project aims to create a deterrent for poachers and disrupt the illegal market for rhino horns.

Despite previous efforts such as dehorning and poisoning horns, poaching of rhinos has persisted, leading to a high number of rhino deaths each year. The use of radioactive material represents a new and potentially more effective method of protecting these endangered animals. With the support of conservationists like Arrie Van Deventer, who sees this initiative as a promising solution to stop poaching, there is hope that the Rhisotope project will have a lasting impact on rhino preservation.

As the project progresses, the scientists and conservationists involved are committed to following proper scientific and ethical protocols for the aftercare of the rhinos. This includes monitoring the animals and ensuring their well-being post-treatment. By maintaining a rigorous approach to the project, the team aims to secure the long-term safety and conservation of rhinos in South Africa.

The use of radioactive material to protect rhinos from poaching marks a significant advancement in conservation efforts. By implementing innovative methods and collaborations between scientists, conservationists, and government agencies, there is hope for the preservation of these majestic animals in the wild. The Rhisotope project represents a beacon of hope in the fight against illegal wildlife trade and the protection of endangered species.

Science

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