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Kenya implanting microchips in every rhino to fight poaching

Kenya hopes that implanting microchips in every rhino nationwide will put an end to poaching.

Story highlights

  • African nations seek ways to halt rapid poaching of rhino horns
  • Poachers are getting more high-tech and sophisticated as demand grows for the horns
  • Kenya is putting two microchips in each rhino -- one in the horn
  • South African officials are dyeing rhino horns pink to discourage purchases

In a bid to end rampant poaching, Kenya is implanting microchips in every rhino nationwide, an extensive process that will include sedating hundreds of animals.

Decimated by illegal killings, the endangered rhino is increasingly under attack by poachers using high-tech, sophisticated technology.

The microchips will allow wildlife officials to track the animals and trace poached horns.

"It's a costly and time-consuming process to get the chips on the rhinos," said Robert Magori, the World Wildlife Fund communications director for eastern and southern Africa. "The rhinos have to be tracked, identified, sedated, fitted with two chips each (on the horn and on the animal), revived and finally released."

Kenya has 631 black rhinos and a total population of 1,030 rhinos, he said.

The animals are part of the big five that draw tourists, a major source of revenue for the east African nation. The other four are the lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo.

    More money, more problems

    Poaching of the rhino horn is a lucrative industry, with much of the loot sold to the affluent in Asia, particularly China and Vietnam. In those countries, some believe the horns can cure a series of ills, including cancer and hangovers, and can boost virility.

    A kilogram fetches about $20,000, according to a report by Moses Montesh, a criminology professor at the University of South Africa. A single horn weighs about 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

    In Kenya, each rhino will get two microchips -- one in the horn and another one in an unidentified part of the animal.

    The microchip is less than 2 inches long and can barely be traced by poachers, Magori said. The fitting process is expected to take up to four months.

    "With poachers getting more sophisticated in their approach, it is vital that conservation efforts embrace the use of more sophisticated technology to counter the killing of wildlife," WWF Kenya said in a statement.

    Struggling to keep up

    Organized crime syndicates are using military-grade helicopters, night-vision equipment and guns fitted with silencers, taking rhino poaching to a whole new level and leaving conservationists struggling to keep up.

    Nations such as South Africa and Kenya have invested in unmanned drones, sniffer dogs and increased security, but have failed to halt the rising tide of rhino slaughter.

    In addition to the microchips, the organization will use forensic DNA technology to identify the animals.

    "This will serve to strengthen rhino monitoring, protect the animals on site and also support anti-trafficking mechanisms nationally and regionally," WWF Kenya said.

    Evidence of poaching

    Once the systems are set up, every rhino nationwide will be traceable, providing investigators with evidence in cases of poaching and making it easier to prosecute suspects.

    Rhino poaching soared by 43% between 2011 and 2012, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a worldwide network.

    Last year alone, about 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa -- the highest number in two decades. Of those, a record 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone.

    In South Africa, officials are dyeing rhino horns pink and tingeing them with nonlethal chemicals to discourage consumers from buying them.