According to nuclear power giant Rosatom, there are currently more than 10,000 radiation detection devices installed around various ports of entry across the globe – at airports, train stations and border crossing checkpoints.
What these devices do, of course, is quickly detect the smuggling of any radioactive items. What they don’t do is protect wild animal poaching in any significant manner.
That is about to change. In a project that put together Rosatom, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, scientists from around the world and rhinoceros veterinarian William Fowlds, poaching the dangerously threatened wild rhinoceros population will be soon be challenged by the use of those radiation detection devices.
In a project also supported by Colorado State University and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, South Africa is developing a program by which harmless, but detectable amounts of radioactive isotopes will be injected into the horns of the animals, which are prized by poachers. This will not stop rhinoceros killing directly. However, it will create an international net by which smugglers will find it much harder to move rhinoceros horn products from country to country.
“Experts are confident that this project will make the transportation of horn incredibly difficult and will substantially increase the likelihood of identifying and arresting smugglers,” said Rosatom.
The Rhisotope Project was conceived of by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The first two rhinos treated with the stable isotopes were injected into two animals, one named Igor after the Russian scientist Igor Kurchatov and Denver, named after the capital of Colorado. The two will be studied for a period of three months to ascertain how the horn and the isotopes interact, according to the World Nuclear Association.
The injections took place at the Buffalo Kloof Private Game reserve.
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While the isotopes may be harmless and long-lived, they are not “stable”, otherwise they would not be radioactive. The instability of the nucleus is what gives rise to the emission of radiations that can be detected.