Rhisotope Project will preserve Africa’s rhinos, elephants and even cycad plants

Rhisotope Project ...

The Rhisotope Project has been specially launched to save rhinos and elephants in the African continent. Princy Mthombeni, a nuclear communication specialist, released a video-interview with Professor James Larkin, Director of Radiation and Health Physics Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand and the founder of the Rhisotope Project. 

The video introduced the project to the African audience and shared its latest achievements on the educational YouTube channel called Africa4Nuclear.

South Africa is home to 90% of the global population of rhinoceros. These animals are hunted for their horns although trade in rhino horn is banned internationally. In 2010–2019, more than 9,600 rhinos were killed by poachers in Africa.

The Rhisotope Project is an initiative between WITS University, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology

Organisation (ANSTO), Colorado State University, Rosatom, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) and top global nuclear scientists, researchers, South African rhino owners and the best wildlife veterinarians in the world to significantly reduce rhino poaching. In short, by placing radioactive material in rhino’s horn, an effective demand reduction and rhino protection tool is created. It is a giant leap forward in the protection of this endangered species. “It’s an antipoaching antitrafficking project, but it is much more than that. It also has social and educational benefits. 

“What we are trying to do is to decrease rhino poaching. There are only maybe 3,500 black rhinos left in Africa and we are losing them. They are iconic species, they have an important impact on the environment”, said Dr. Larkin.

Rhino poaching has a long history. Some people believe it can cure illnesses and be used in medical treatment. However, it is only a superstition. Rhino horns have a bony core covered by a thin sheath of keratin, the same substance as hair and nails. 

Many scientific studies, such as by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Hoffmann-La Roche and the Zoological Society of London dispelled claims that rhino keratin bears any effect on the human body. “It is just like our nails. It doesn’t have any medical value. This animal is worth much more standing up. If you poach it, it is a one-time value, but if you preserve it – it creates many jobs for people and saves the species”, added Dr. Larkin.

In the interview Dr. James Larkin mentioned that the scientific research will play a big role in preserving other species too. “We are also starting to think about whether we can do it with elephant ivory and then maybe look at cycad plants. These items have a high value, because of their rarity, but are

smuggled. You can think of these isotopes as a tracking device that doesn’t run out. There are about 11,000 installed radiation points, there are border agents, custom agents that can easily track them”, concluded Dr. Larkin.

For more information watch the full video of the interview: www.youtube.com/watch?v=shn_Tp7T3V4&t=480


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