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Microchip implants could stop rhino poaching

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World Wildlife Fund donates more than 1,000 chips to help monitor Kenya's fragile rhino populations

white rhino kenya (flickr)
white rhino kenya (flickr)

Kenya is planting a microchip in the horn of every rhinoceros within its borders, as part of a bold plan to crack down on poaching. The WWF has provided the country with more than 1,000 microchips and five scanners, which will allow officials to track Kenya's fragile rhino populations, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said in a statement this week.

The idea is that tracking each rhino will allow authorities to monitor the animals more closely, while supporting anti-poaching and trafficking measures. Officials hope this surveillance will further deter poachers from slaughtering rhinos, which, like elephants, have been targeted for their ivory horns.

Every rhino will be tagged under Kenya's campaign

The price of ivory has soared in recent years due to rising demand in Asia, where the material is used for traditional medicine and carvings. Rhino and elephant populations have declined at alarming rates across Africa, but Kenya hopes the microchips will make it easier to prosecute poachers in court, since seized horns could be traced to the animals and areas from which they were taken.

"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," the KWS said Wednesday, adding that the campaign could shed light on the global networks underpinning the ivory trade.

The 1,000 chips and five scanners were donated at a cost of $15,000, marking the latest efforts by international groups to stamp out poaching across the continent. In July, President Barack Obama launched a $10 million campaign to help combat poaching in Kenya, South Africa, and the sub-Saharan region, drawing praise from conservationist groups. The issue drew renewed attention last month, after it was determined that poachers used cyanide to kill more than 80 elephants in Zimbabwe — a sign, officials say, that wildlife traffickers are using ever more advanced techniques to evade authorities.

"we want to put an end to it as soon as possible."

Robert Magori, communications officer at the WWF office in Nairobi, says the microchips will be implanted in every rhino's horn over the next four to six months. He acknowledges that this process will be "costly and time consuming," though he says it's part of a broader campaign to fight poaching with better surveillance, DNA testing, and other technologies.

"We are pushing for better legislation in Kenya, and at the same time equipping the boots on the ground, the park rangers, with better equipment to carry out surveillance and gather intelligence," Magori tells The Verge. "We also want to use drones and other technologies to help monitor poaching activity."

"It's urgent for us," he continues. "Poaching is a major problem, and we want to put an end to it as soon as possible."