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South African scientists this week injected radioactive material into live rhino horns to make them detectable at border posts, in a pioneering effort to combat rhino poaching, CBS News reported.

South Africa is home to the majority of the world’s rhinos but it is facing significant issues with poaching because of demand in Asia, where horns are used for traditional medicine.

Around 15,000 rhinos live in the southern African nation, according to an estimate by the International Rhino Foundation.

The initiative, led by James Larkin from the University of the Witwatersrand, involves implanting “tiny little radioactive chips” into the rhino horns. The chips will render the horns “poisonous for human consumption”, but will not harm the animals or the environment.

Named “Rhisotope,” the project aims to make the horns detectable by radiation detectors at ports, airports and international borders to help deter illegal trade.

Despite government efforts, rhino poaching remains rampant in South Africa, with 499 rhinos killed in 2023, an 11 percent increase from the previous year.

The Rhisotope project plans to involve 20 rhinos initially, Agence France-Presse wrote.

Conservationist Arrie Van Deventer expressed hope that this innovative approach might finally stop poaching, as previous methods like dehorning and poisoning horns have been ineffective.

Researchers explained that the radioactive material in the horns will last up to five years and the project will ensure the animals’ aftercare and follow scientific and ethical protocols.

The high demand for rhino horns is driven by their purported medicinal properties and continues to fuel an illegal market.

Efforts to protect rhinos have included relocating them and removing their horns safely, but poaching surged during the Covid-19 pandemic due to funding shortages in conservation areas.

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