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S African rhino rustlers tackled using satellite horn implants

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Rhinos in South Africa have been fitted with tracker bugs implanted in their horns, in an attempt by game wardens to frustrate poachers. Powdered rhino horn is much in demand in the Far East, where it is considered an aid to a gentleman's boudoir prowess.

The BBC reports that five rhinos residing in the Mafikeng Game Reserve in South Africa's Northwest province have been lojacked thus far. The tracking devices, like most of their type, use GPS satnav location and pass data to game wardens via mobile-phone masts.

However, unlike typical systems attached to dangerous yet potentially lucrative wild animals - for instance these, fastened to ocean-going crocodiles by the late reptile-bothering stingray heart-prong tragedy celeb Steve Irwin - the perissodactyl monitoring kit is internally mounted.

Reportedly the electronics are fitted by "drilling a small hole" in the inert dead bit of the prized horn.

"There are a number of alarms that can be programmed: one for excessive movement, so if the rhino starts running, and another that goes off if the rhino sleeps for longer than six hours, which is abnormal," rhino-minder parkie Rusty Hustler told the Beeb.

It seems that it's also possible to set up a "virtual fence" type setup which will alert Hustler and his colleagues should one of their horny charges stray outside the park - or allow pursuit of crooks fleeing with ill-gotten horns.

Of course, murderous hornsnatcher rhino rustlers would need to be rather lacking in tech-savvy - certainly following the BBC report - not to immediately wrap their booty in tinfoil or place it in a metallic container. Wardens would still know that something was amiss due to the cessation of signals from the devices, but would be unable to track the aphrodisiac-peddling malefactors as they fled the scene.

That said, Hustler and his fellow rhino-minders apparently have a fast-responding "reaction" squad able to deploy at speed the instant they get an alert. This no-doubt heavily armed parkie SWAT team might well overtake fleeing perissodactyl poachers even if they had disabled their bugged swag somehow.

Truly savvy villains might choose instead to spoof the bugs' GPS systems by generating fake satellite signals from a commercial simulator unit - though there are ways for a competent bug designer to counter such meddling.

According to the Beeb, Hustler and his fellow parkies intend to chip up many more of their animal chums in coming months. ®

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