Perhaps you saw one of the recent articles about how the Kenya Wildlife Service is planning to implant microchips in the horns of every rhino in its country, hoping it will help them to track, capture, and prosecute poachers. Last year, according to the article, 745 rhinos were taken by poachers in Africa, with 668 of those in South Africa alone. Wildlife officials there have taken to painting the horns pink to discourage would-be customers from buying them.

Black rhinos in Lewa, central Kenya. Photo from Wikimedia CommonsWith help from the World Wildlife Fund, officials in Kenya plan to implant two microchips in every rhino, one in the horn and one in an unidentified part of the body. Plus, they’ll be taking DNA samples.

That’ll be quite a job, since Kenya reportedly has a current head count of 1,030 rhinos, with 631 of them being the popularly poached black rhino. Each rhino has to be tracked, tranquilized, fitted with the microchips, then revived.

I hope this amounts to more than an expensive stirring of dust. The microchips are described as being “less than two inches long,” according to Robert Magori, the World Wildlife Fund communications director for eastern and southern Africa, which leads one to think they’re more than one inch long.

The chips “can barely be traced by poachers,” he said, but you have to wonder. While we certainly hope the project is successful, anyone sophisticated enough to track and kill a rhino can probably locate and dig out a microchip if they know it’s there. Maybe there will be a bigger dummy microchip and a tiny real one that officials are not talking about, but the poaching syndicates reportedly use military style helicopters, night vision goggles, and guns with silencers, so they would probably have little trouble getting their hands on a microchip scanner.

Rhinos are a popular target for poachers because there’s a lucrative black market for them in Asia, especially in China and Vietnam, where ground rhino horn is thought to improve virility, cure hangovers, and even fight diseases such as cancer. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) reportedly sells for $20,000.

Ridiculous! We say. Who could believe such rhinowash?

Yet, we all read newspapers and websites filled with ads for herbal potions or other treatments that promise to unwrinkle our skin, improve our sex lives, cure diseases, or whittle away unwanted weight while we sleep — and they wouldn’t keep advertizing snake oil if people didn’t buy it. 

In the meantime, if you’re tempted to look for a back-alley Chinatown shop selling rhino horn, there’s no real need. Rhino horns are made of keratin — the same sustance that makes up human fingernails and toenails. So, if you’re feeling weak, there’s no need to pay big bucks for powdered rhino nosenail — just stick a finger in your mouth, start chewing, and you’ll be better soon.

You believe me, right?

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