6:32 AM PDT, June 5, 2021
They look like ordinary rhinos, but they’re actually radioactive — kind of. Conservationists in South Africa are trying something new to deter rhino poaching.
They’re drilling holes into rhinos’ horns and inserting non-radioactive isotopes, which will alert radiation detectors if and when someone tries to smuggle them across a border point.
Since poachers won’t know which rhinos are carrying the isotopes, researchers hope it could make poaching a riskier business. They’re also hoping it will make rhino horns less desirable to potential buyers.
And don’t worry: No rhinos were harmed during this project.
“If we make it radioactive, people are going to be less inclined to want to own something like rhino horn because rhino horn is used for a number of different things,” James Larkin of the University of Witwatersrand said.
Rhino horns are still very desirable in some Asian countries, where they are believed to have medicinal properties. They’re also seen as a symbol of wealth.
Poaching and drought conditions have taken a toll on the rhino population in the country, with one national park reporting a decrease of two-thirds of its population over 10 years. It’s estimated there are about 16,000 rhinos left in South Africa.