Kenya microchipping every single rhino in ambitious anti-poaching effort

white rhino photo
CC BY 2.0 Valentina Storti

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, and 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."

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