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Kenya begins major project to save Rhinos

13 December 2013, 15:00

Nairobi - The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on Friday begun 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 Program 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).

KWS's veterinary surgeon Isaac Lekolool, 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 on Friday.

The microchip is less than 2 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 U.S. dollars and supporting the implanting exercise in the Mara at a cost of 58,823 dollars.

Currently, KWS and WWF are working together to ensure that Kenya meets the CITES CoP16 rhino decisions that seek to ensure that rhinos remain viable and able to survive current and future threats.

"Success in this effort would not only secure rhino populations in Kenya but also deliver improved governance and institutional strengthening in government, improved ability of government to combat other transnational organized crimes, and increased national and regional stability, all of which creates a more conducive environment for sustainable economic development," Awer said.

The East African nation has 631 black rhinos and a total population 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 to the affluent in Asia. In those countries, 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. Out of these elephants, he said, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas.

In a bid to curb illegal trade in ivory, KWS said it has increased education and awareness amongst the Judiciary and general public that wildlife trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products is a serious crime, which can be classified as economic crime for illegal trading in ivory and rhino horn.


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