Rhino horns to be injected with RADIOACTIVE material to deter poaching

Rhino horns will be injected with RADIOACTIVE material under South African anti-poaching plan backed by Russia’s nuclear agency

  • Researchers are looking for alternative ways to tackle illegal poaching 
  • Backed by Russia’s Rosatom, scientists in South Africa are developing a new technique where radioactive material could be injected into the rhino’s horn
  • It is hoped this would act as a deterrent to potential consumers of the material
  • It would also make illegal goods easier to track across borders, experts say
  • Rhino horns are prized in traditional medicine and as a display of wealth 

Rhinos’ horns are set to be injected with radioactive material in a bid to tackle illegal poaching. 

Researchers backed by Russia’s Rosatom nuclear agency are developing a pilot programme in South Africa that it is hoped could discourage consumption and facilitate the tracking of illegal goods. 

Rhinos’ horns are prized in traditional medicine as a means of curing various ailments, and are sometimes given as gifts or displayed as an indicator of wealth. 

Efforts to combat poaching in public and private game reserves have been hampered by a lack of resources necessary to patrol the huge swaths of land the animals inhabit. 

This has spurred a search for a more effective means of discouraging poaching without harming the rhinos, or other animals that interact with them. 

Rhinos’ horns could be injected with radioactive material in a bid to tackle illegal poaching. Researchers backed by Russia’s Rosatom are developing a pilot programme in South Africa that it is hoped could discourage consumption and facilitate the tracking of illegal goods [Stock image]

Poising, dyeing and removing the horns have all divided opinion as alternate methods.

The new anti-poaching programme is known as The Rhisotope Project and began earlier this month, Bloomberg reported.

An amino acid was injected into the horns of two rhinos’ to determine whether it will move into the animals’ bodies. 

Studies involving computer modelling and a replica rhino head will also be carried out to determine a safe dose of radioactive material, Bloomberg said.

Professor James Larkin of University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said: ‘If we make it [the rhino horn] radioactive, there will be a reticence by these people to buy it. 

‘We’re pushing on the whole supply chain,’ he told the outlet.

Poising, dyeing and removing the horns have all divided opinion as alternate methods to combat poaching. Pictured: A female rhino that has been dehorned in Zimbabwe [Stock image]

Larkin, who has a background in radiation protection and nuclear security, said existing sensors along international borders could aid in detecting a small quantity of radioactive material in the horns.

‘Once we have developed the whole project and got to the point where we completed the proof of concept then we will be making this whole idea available to whoever wants to use it,’ Larkin said of the initiative.

It has brought together Rosatom and the University of Witwatersrand as well as scientists and private rhino owners. 

If the method is successful, it could be applied to elephants, to attempt to curb the trade in illegal ivory.

Some 394 rhinos were killed in South Africa for their horns last year, according to government data. 

While the toll was a third lower than in 2019, likely due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, poaching remains a serious concern for reserves in the country and elsewhere in Africa.

South Africa is home to the world’s largest population of rhinos, with some 20,000 living in the country.

Some 394 rhinos were killed in South Africa for their horns last year, according to government data. While the toll was a third lower than in 2019, likely due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, poaching remains a serious concern for reserves in the country and elsewhere in Africa. Pictured: A ranger walks behind rhinos in Zimbabwe [Stock image]

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