Rhino Horn Microchips, DNA To Combat High-Tech Poaching

Rhino Horn Microchips, DNA To Combat High-Tech Poaching

Kenya is using technology to fight the increasingly tech-savvy poachers decimating its endangered rhino population, according to a report in CNN.

The country’s wildlife officials will implant microchips in every rhino nationwide, an extensive process that will include sedating hundreds of animals.

Kenya has 631 black rhinos and a total population of 1,030 rhinos, CNN reports. Rhions are one of the big five that draw tourists, a major source of revenue for the East African nation. The other four are lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo.

The World Wide Fund for Nature has donated more than 1,000 microchips and five scanners to the Kenya Wildlife Service to help combat rhino poaching.

The equipment will be used to improve active rhino monitoring as well as stockpile audits of rhino horn in the country.

The process is time consuming and expensive, said said Robert Magori, World Wildlife Fund communications director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The rhinos have to be tracked, identified, sedated, fitted with two chips each (on the horn and on the animal), revived and finally released.”

“With poachers getting more sophisticated in their approach it is vital that conservation efforts embrace the use of more sophisticated technology to counter the killing of wildlife,” Kenya Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Rhino poaching is a lucrative industry, with much of the loot sold to affluent Asians, particularly Chinese and Vietnamese, where some believe the horns can cure ills from cancer to hangovers, and boost virility.

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A kilogram fetches about $20,000, according to Moses Montesh, a criminology professor at the University of South Africa. A single horn weighs about 22 pounds.

The microchip is less than two inches long and can barely be traced by poachers, Magori said. The fitting process is expected to take up to four months.

Organized crime syndicates are using military-grade helicopters, night-vision equipment and guns fitted with silencers, taking rhino poaching to a whole new level and leaving conservationists struggling to keep up.

Nations such as South Africa and Kenya have invested in unmanned drones, sniffer dogs and increased security, but have failed to halt the rising tide of rhino slaughter,  CNN reports.

In addition to the microchips, the organization will use forensic DNA technology to identify the animals.

“This will serve to strengthen rhino monitoring, protect the animals on site and also support anti-trafficking mechanisms nationally and regionally,” World Wide Fund Kenya said.

Once the systems are set up, every rhino nationwide will be traceable, providing investigators with evidence in cases of poaching and making it easier to prosecute suspects.

Rhino poaching soared by 43 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a worldwide network.

In 2012 alone, about 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa – the highest number in two decades. Of those, a record 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone.

In South Africa, officials are dyeing rhino horns pink and tingeing them with nonlethal chemicals to discourage consumers from buying them.