The ‘Rosatom’ Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation has been developing an innovative international project to curb the illegal trade in African rhino horns by using radioactive isotopes to make them easily traceable, RT reports.
It is specified that more than 9,600 rhinoceroses were killed between 2010 and 2019 as poachers keep hunting them for their horns that cost more than gold and platinum on the black market. An unsettling forecast suggests that in the next 9 years rhinos could be on the brink of extinction in South Africa that is home to some 90 per cent of their global population.
To reverse this trend, the Rhisotope Project was launched in May, 2021. Its name is derived from the words “rhino” and “isotope” and involves radioactive materials intended to make the horns unattractive and dangerous for poachers and their buyers.
Rather than actually harming those touching the horns, the project aims to make the illegal trade extremely traceable. The horns will be marked with a safe amount of radioactive material so that they would become detectable by some radiation scanners installed at airports, train stations, and harbors.
Initiated by the Wits University in South Africa, it has become a major international collaboration with the participation of Rosatom, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO), Colorado State University, and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa).
The first stage of the project has seen stable non-radioactive isotopes being injected into the horns of two South African rhinos. Scientists will monitor these animals until the end of summer to make sure that the foreign materials don’t do any harm to them. If the procedure is proven safe, supercomputers will be involved to determine the right radioactive isotope and the precise quantity needed to properly mark the animals.