How Can Radioactive Isotopes Stop Rhino Poaching?

Radioactive Isotopes to stop rhino poaching

South African biologists and other scientists have come up with a new way to prevent poaching while allowing rhinos to retain their horns but with greater protection.

Earlier, it was thought that capturing a rhino and taking away its horns would deter the poachers. However, the removal of the horn changed the social structure drastically and led to alterations in the natural behavior of the animals, thus raising several concerns about their health and conservation.

Introducing Radioactive Isotopes

In a move to try and restrain this, radioactive isotopes have been inserted into the horns of rhinos in a Limpopo northern province nursery. Radiation from the isotopes is meant to brand anyone handling a rhino horn at border crossings to enable the tracking and intercepting of trafficked horns.

This technique of embedding radioactive isotopes provides a better way of tracking. Even if the tracker is removed, the radiation stays on the horn and everything it comes into contact with, thus making sure that the journey of the horn is traceable and can always be monitored.

Implementation by Nuclear Researchers

Researchers have injected the isotopes into 20 live rhinos at the Radiation and Health Physics Unit of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. In an exclusive interview with Africa News, Professor James Larkin, who is leading this project, described the benefits that are accruable from this approach. 

“Well, we avoid all of that because it makes it much easier to intercept these horns as they’re being trafficked across international borders,” Larkin said. “There is a global network set up to monitor nuclear terrorism material, and we’re piggybacking off that.”

 Urgent Need for Innovation

He also added that they need new ways of preventing poaching as the current measures have their limits. Year after year, the country still loses hundreds of rhinos to poachers.

According to Professor Nithaya Chetty, the science faculty dean at Witwatersrand, the dosage of the radioactivity used is very low. They had done extensive tests to ensure that it would have a very negligible impact on the animals—the health and safety of the animals remain on top priority.

Combatting Myths and Demand

While elephant ivory is sought after due to its exotically raw material, rhino horn is primarily trafficked to organized crime syndicates in Asia. They benefit from the mistaken belief that rhino horns have healing powers that condition illegal demand and put rhino populations in severe danger.

The application of radioactive isotopes to rhino horns gives a new meaning to the conservation efforts for wildlife. With sophisticated technology and the existing global infrastructure at one’s beck and call, researchers working in unison in South Africa are doing several things right to protect these magnificent creatures from the menace of poaching and securing their longevity for posterity.

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