Scientists Implant Radioactive Material Into Horn of Living Rhinoceros to Poison Anyone Who Consumes It

Warning Horn

In an effort to make them useless to poachers, researchers are implanting radioactive isotopes into the horns of rhinos in South Africa.

The unusual material would "render the horn useless... essentially poisonous for human consumption," James Larkin, professor and dean of science at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Agence France-Presse.

The isotopes would also be "strong enough to set off detectors that are installed globally," Larkin added, referring to hardware that was originally installed to "prevent nuclear terrorism."

And in case you're wondering, the "two tiny little radioactive chips in the horn" pose no risks to the animals' health or the local environment, making it an elegant solution to a very real problem.

Ex Tincture

Rhino horns are extremely in demand for their use in traditional medicine, particularly in Asia, despite there being no scientific evidence to support their supposed therapeutic effects. They can be worth more in weight than gold or cocaine.

According to AFP, 499 rhinos were known to have been killed in 2023, representing an 11 percent increase over 2022. While three species of rhinos remain critically endangered, white rhinos in Africa have fortunately made a remarkable recovery after once thought to be extinct, largely thanks to conservation efforts. According to the report, there are about 15,000 rhinos in South Africa.

Radioactive Rhino

Previous efforts, including poisoning or painting the horns, have failed so far. Conservationists have even resorted to dehorning rhinos intentionally since the 1980s to keep them safe from poachers.

"We get a lot of criticism for cutting with a chainsaw," University of Neuchâtel PhD candidate and black rhino conservation specialist Vanessa Duthé told Discover last year, "but it's the best way, the fastest way [to dehorn]."

However, Larkin is optimistic about his latest attempt. He and his colleagues are planning to implant radioactive isotopes in twenty rhinos.

"Maybe this is the thing that will stop poaching," he told AFP. "This is the best idea I've ever heard."

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