In the fight against the brutal rhino poaching, South African researchers are resorting to extraordinary means. Scientists from the University of Witwatersrand want to radiate the horns of the endangered animals in order to curb smuggling.
Injecting a small amount of radioactive material into the animals’ horns could deter many poachers, according to the researchers. It would make the horn smuggling easier to spot, explained nuclear researcher James Larkin. More than 11,000 radiation detectors are installed at ports and airports around the world that can detect the radioactive material in the horns.
The researchers gave two rhinos a test injection with non-radioactive isotopes to test whether these could spread in the animals’ bodies and affect their health. With the help of computer models, it is now intended to determine which dose of radioactive particles is appropriate for rhinos.
After a decline during the pandemic year 2020, rhino poaching in South Africa has recently increased significantly again.
According to the authorities, at least 249 rhinos were killed in the first six months of 2021 – at least 83 more than in the same period last year.
The poachers are interested in the horns, which, like human fingernails, consist only of keratin, but are considered a remedy in traditional Asian medicine. In addition, the horns are traded as trophies that symbolize wealth and success.