Kenya to plant microchips in rhino horns to deter poachers

Tracking devices will aid police in combating increased poaching of rhinos for their horns

Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) rangers and Lewa Conservancy staff try to move a wild male black rhino named Sambu after it was tranquilized in Lewa conservancy on Aug. 28. The horn of each rhino is cut and a tracking device is fitted to monitor its movements and to help combat poaching.
Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya will place microchips in the horn of every rhino in the country in a bid to stamp out a surge in poaching of the threatened animals, wildlife officials have said.

The tiny chips will be inserted and hidden in the keratin horns of Kenya’s approximately 1,000 rhinos in a high-tech effort to combat poachers.

"Poachers are getting more sophisticated in their approach," Paul Udoto, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), told the AFP news agency. “So it is vital that conservation efforts also follow and embrace the use of more sophisticated technology to counter the killing of wildlife."

The World Wildlife Fund donated the chips as well as five scanners at a cost of $15,000, although tracking the rhino to dart them and fit the device will cost considerably more.

By allowing for all animals to be traced and providing potential vital information on poaching and smuggling chains, the chips will enable police to better prosecute poachers and traffickers.

"Investigators will be able to link any poaching 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," KWS said in a statement.

Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years, with rhinos not the only animals targeted. Whole elephant herds have been massacred for their ivory tusks.

The lucrative Asian black market for rhino horn has driven a boom in poaching across Africa. Some consumers in Asia believe the horns have powerful healing properties, and increased affluence, especially in China, has increased demand.

In August, poachers shot dead a white rhino in Nairobi's national park, a brazen raid in one of the best guarded sites in Kenya.

Simply chopping the horn off the rhino has limited impact, Udoto explained.

"The horn grows back ... and we've so sadly found that poachers can kill a rhino at first sight and only then find that its horn has been removed," he said.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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