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Will microchips in Kenyan rhinos save them from poachers?


Officers of Kenya Wildlife Services attend to a sedated black rhino at the Nairobi national park during an excercise to implant microchips in an effort to stem poaching of the endangered mammal. (AFP photo)

It’s the last resort to save rhinos.

The Kenya Wildlife Service began implanting microchips in every rhino at its Masai Mara Games Reserve in an extensive process that will include sedating hundreds of animals there.

The microchip is less than two inches long and can barely be traced by poachers. The process will take up to four months and will strengthen rhino monitoring and anti-poaching activities in the country.

When it’s done, it will allow for the successful traceability of every live animal within Kenya and all rhino horns in the stockpiles. “The forensic DNA technology will greatly improve the ability of prosecutors to bring to court a case of not only possession of a wildlife trophy, but will also be used to trace back the horn to a poaching incident, thus providing greater evidence hence more punitive penalties,” Isaac Lekolool, a veterinary surgeon with the KWS, said in a statement.

Investigators will then be able to link any poached case to a recovered horn and it will serve as crucial evidence in court.

Kenya has over 630 black rhinos and a total of 1,030 rhinos.

It’s another step to combat killing of rhinos for their horns even as poachers are using sophisticated technology to decimate rhino population.

Rhino horns are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in South-East Asian countries like Vietnam. Though the weight of rhino horns varies, an individual horn can fetch up to $350,000 and a kilogram of the horn sells for as much as $65,000.

In Vietnam, it is believed that the rhino horn has miraculous healing properties, including a cure for cancer.

In just South Africa, over 800 rhinos have already been killed this year — last year, 668 were killed while only 13 were poached in 2007.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh


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