In face of rhino extinction, poaching gangs face new technology

7:50 PM, Nov 8, 2013   |    comments
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(WXIA)  It's not that the western black rhino didn't have a chance. It did. Conservation groups including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) say if simple actions had been taken just a few years ago, the majestic animals would still be alive. 

Instead, the official announcement came this week: the western black rhino is extinct.  

"The situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented," Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN species survival commission said in a statement.  "These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction." 

FIGHTING POACHERS | See the role of technology

The World Wildlife Foundation says high demand for rhino horn has given rise to organized poaching criminal syndicates. They used advanced technology to elude capture including night goggles, silenced weapons, and helicopters. The WWF says the problem is getting worse. In 2009, 122 rhinos were killed. That number rose to 333 in 2010. In 2012, 388 have already been killed. 

Although there's no scientific proof the rhino horn has any medicinal purpose, it's highly prized in Asian medicine. The horn is ground into powder and sold in tablets to cure everything from nosebleeds to convulsions. 

Because poachers are targeting the horns, so is the technology to catch them. For the first time, the Kenya Wildlife Service has begun attaching transponders to rhinos. 

Rangers herded rhinos in the Rift Valley of Africa in one direction before shooting them with a tranquilizer dart. Transponders are placed in the front horn, rear horn, neck, and tail. 

Geoffrey Bundotich with the Kenya Wildlife Service said the placement is key to catching poachers, "These will help trace this animal in the future. In case of poaching, we can still trace the horn to the specific rhino." 

So far this year, Kenya has lost 90 elephants and 35 rhinos to poachers.

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