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Microchips Could Be the Key to Protecting Endangered Rhinos in Kenya

Microchips Could Be the Key to Protecting Endangered Rhinos in Kenya

Written by Jaymi Heimbuch

Though many strategies have been devised for catching poachers in the act, the death toll of rhinos continues to rise. Kenya is pushing back with a massive effort, microchipping more than 1,000 rhinos to catch poachers.

Just this year we’ve sadly seen titles to articles that spell out doom for wild rhinos, including:

Rhino poaching has gone up 5000% since 2007
Poachers have killed more rhinos this year than ever before
Poachers have now killed all the rhinos in Mozambique

And that’s just this year. There is little time left for rhinos, and Kenya, a country so dependent on tourism based on its wildlife — including iconic species like rhinos — is taking action.

BBC News reports that more than 1,000 rhinos will get microchips implanted in their horns. World Wildlife Fund is donating the chips, plus five scanners, for a cost of over $15,000, though that is just a drop in the bucket when the total cost of tracking, darting and implanting each rhino is considered.

Still, it is well worth the cost. Setting aside the fact that rhinos are an important animal to be valued simply because they exist, they are also important to the tourism economy, which has a much larger price tag in the long run than any immediate profit gained from killing a rhino and selling its horn. With this effort, every rhino can be tracked, and if killed, the horn can more easily be traced to catch the poachers.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said in a statement: “Furthermore, investigators will be able to link any poached case to a recovered or confiscated horn and this forms crucial evidence in court contributing towards the prosecution’s ability to push for sentencing of a suspected rhino criminal.”

Microchipping is one strategy. Meanwhile, poisoning rhino horns is another strategy. Because rhino horns are falsely thought to be beneficial to one’s health in Traditional Chinese Medicine (it is about as beneficial as chewing on your own fingernails, which are made of the same material), Ed Hern, owner of the Rhino and Lion Reserve near Johannesburg decided that poisoning rhino horns to make people who consume them sick will change the demand, deterring people from buying the horns at all. The horns are also dyed so that they can be easily spotted and traced through their route on the black market, hopefully leading authorities to the poachers. You can read more about the poison-and-dye strategy on Scientific American.

However, Kenya is sticking with microchips. KWS states, “The deployment of specialised rhino horn tracking systems combined with forensic DNA technology will allow for 100 per cent traceability of every rhino horn and live animal within Kenya. This will serve to strengthen rhino monitoring, protect the animals on site and also support anti-trafficking mechanisms nationally and regionally.”

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

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Photo Credit: Valentina Storti

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77 comments

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4:50AM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

9:50PM PST on Nov 5, 2013

Only time will tell if this will help save them, or target the animals for the poachers. Fingers crossed...but not holding breath.

9:44AM PDT on Oct 26, 2013

Bev W
I kind of have difficulty with your comment, but let me explain why...
Ignoring the fact I am a Buddhist, I would agree with you that the people that kill these fantastic endangered animals should be shot on sight.
BUT... I have seen programmes on UK tv recently where these very same poachers were captured and educated and given the chance to prove themselves and a lot went into guarding the very same Rhinos and Elephants they had previously tried to kill.
The key, it seemed, for them at least, was education about the animals.
It also worked wonderfully for people who were trying to kill off Celebes Crested Macaques. A European film maker team went into the area and spent months with the Macaques and made a LOT of films about them. They then set up a projector and whitened a wall and showed local villages and children the films they had made. These villagers then saw that each Macaque had a personality, they did things like humans sometimes, they played and so on. The Villagers themselves set up help for the local Macaques so they could try and help injured animals and prevent them being killed off as bush meat in markets.
This is where we need to start I think, IF at all possible. Although I don't know if it would work with animals that cannot grin directly into a camera like a Macaque can. Here's hoping

11:18AM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

I'm just thinking out loud here and wonder what others think about this point of view I've been mulling over -
Seems to me that the issue with animals being murdered (elephant/ rhino poaching for example) or being kept in confinement for harvesting of body parts (bear bile) or entertainment (bear baiting/dog fighting) will never be stopped despite our best efforts unless alternative sources of income are available for the people who perpetrate these atrocities. Aren't the countries where these things happen very poor with limited access or availability to education/employment opportunities by which to earn a decent living? Are we overlooking a source of the problem here or is it just too big an undertaking? Are we destined to continually be trying to be one step ahead of the poachers?

11:35PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

sigh...

11:27AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

Quite so, Jennifer H., it is a kind of arms race with poachers. Time was they used bows and arrows and spears, now they use trailbikes and AK47s. And, yes, they are hacking into GPS systems to target radio-collared animals.

I agree with Claire T. that we should tackle the problem at both ends but apparently it takes at least two generations to change deep-seated cultural attitudes. I suppose the Gay and Womens' Liberation movements have shown the truth of that and we are still fighting those battles. So we just don't have time to hope the demand will dry up if we are to save the rhino and tiger.

A wildlife guide from South Africa told me about an investigative TV programme there that set up a 'sting' using confiscated rhino horn as the bait. The wouldbe buyer worked for a major Asian embassy...

12:10AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Kill the poachers on sight. That's one way of getting rid of these evil money hungry human poachers. It might give the Rhino's a chance. These evil people don,t care about the beautiful wildlife .Kill them all. This World would be a better place without them and safe for all the wildlife.

8:28PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

It's worth a try. I like the suggestions of GPS in the microchip.

8:07PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

This is a good idea, however, the only real way to stop poaching is to target the demand for the ivory, ie; who is buying it? Why are they buying it? Etc. Educating people to make ethical decisions is probably the best way to go regarding stopping poaching.

5:55PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

If only that coud work ...

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