Microchip implant plan to track rhino poaching


SOUTH AFRICAN wildlife conservationists have launched a new anti-rhino poaching programme that involves fitting a global positioning system (GPS) inside the horn of the endangered species in a bid to curb their illegal hunting.

Five rhinos in the Mafikeng Game Reserve in the country’s North West province have already been fitted with the microchip device, inserted through a small hole drilled into the inert part of the horn, according to the National Parks Board.

The GPS chips link up to a computer monitoring station at the game reserves headquarters where rangers can track the rhino’s movement. “The animals’ movements are then tracked 24/7 and if they are attacked, game rangers will be alerted” via an alarm system, park enforcement officer Rusty Hustler told reporters.

The alarm signal activates if the rhino lies inert for longer than six hours, becomes unusually active or moves outside the game park in which it lives. A “reaction team” is dispatched if the alarm is set off, Mr Hustler added.

It is also envisaged the system could be used to track rhino horns being trafficked abroad.

The GPS chips were fitted last April and, over the last six months, local conservation authorities have been monitoring the system. Thus far it has been deemed a success and the provincial parks board intends to tag more rhinos over the coming weeks.

This is the first time a device like this has been used in South Africa, which has experienced a massive increase in rhino poaching over the past two years.

In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached for their horns, but this year to date more than 200 animals have been killed.

Most of the rhino horn is believed to have been transported to Southeast Asia where it is used in traditional medicines.

In the North West alone more than 40 animals have been killed, including a pregnant cow. It is believed a kilo of rhino horn can fetch tens of thousands of euro on the black market in Southeast Asia.

Last week, South African law enforcement officials flew to Vietnam, one of the main markets for poached rhino horn, to meet with their counterparts to co-ordinate their drive against the illegal trade, said Traffic, a UK-based global wildlife trade monitoring network.