Kenya implanting microchips in rhinos to fight poaching

Nairobi, Dec 13: The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Friday began implanting microchips in every rhino in the world’s famous Masai Mara Games Reserve in an extensive process that will include sedating hundreds of animals.

The Kenya Rhino Microchip Programme runs along with the ear notching of unmarked or younger rhinos and is being implemented by the KWS and the Narok county government with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Xinhua reported.

Isaac Lekolool, a veterinary surgeon with the KWS, said the deployment of microchips and notching of rhino ears combined with forensic DNA technology will allow for successful traceability of every live animal within Kenya and all rhino horns in the stockpiles.

“The forensic DNA technology will greatly improve the ability of prosecutors to bring to court a case of not only possession of a wildlife trophy, but will also be used to trace back the horn to a poaching incident, thus providing greater evidence hence more punitive penalties,” Lekolool said in a statement issued Friday.

The microchip is less than two inches long and can barely be traced by poachers. The fitting process is expected to take up to four months.

The agency said investigators will be able to link any poached 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.

Decimated by illegal killings, the endangered rhino is increasingly under attack by poachers using high-tech, sophisticated technology.

The microchips will serve to strengthen rhino monitoring, anti-poaching activities and also support anti-trafficking mechanisms nationally.

The east African nation is currently embracing the use of more sophisticated technology to counter illegal wildlife trade and stop loss of flagship species such as rhinos and elephants.

“Since poachers are using sophisticated technology, it’s high time that Kenya embraces the same,” said Mohammed Awer, WWF Kenya’s country director.

Awer said WWF is committed to supporting the integration of new technology and has already purchased the microchips at a cost of $17,647 and supporting the implanting exercise in Masai Mara at a cost of $58,823.

The East African nation has 631 black rhinos and a total of 1,030 rhinos.

The animals are part of the big five that draw tourists, a major source of revenue for the east African nation. The other four are the lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo.

Poaching of the rhino horn is a lucrative industry, with much of the loot sold in Asian countries, where some believe the horns can cure a series of ills, including cancer and hangovers, and can boost virility.

The east African nation has also lost 21 rhinos and 117 elephants to poachers since the beginning of 2013. Of these elephants, Awer said, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas.

IANS