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21 May

Isotope? Iso-nope to Rhino Poaching

Many of you will remember OV Professor James Larkin (S 74-81) from when he was in the 1st XV Rugby at King’s, or out on the water with the Boat Club, but how many of you know what he has done more recently?

James can currently be found in South Africa, where he is the Director of the Radiation and Health Physics Unit (Research & Innovation) for the University of the Witwatersrand. James, alongside an international team, has used the opportunity of the Covid Lockdown to launch The Rhisotope Project: a multi-faceted rhino anti-poaching programme.

Acknowledging that the biggest threat facing African rhinos is poaching for the illegal trade in their horns, the project aims to both reduce demand for the horns and defeat the poachers, who are using increasingly sophisticated methods of tracking the rhinos.

A co-founder of the project, James explains in more detail: “Here at my university, which is more generally known as Wits University (people battle with the Afrikaans pronunciation) and in cooperation with a number of international partners, we have recently launched The Rhisotope Project.

“We are currently in the early stages of research, but the aim is to incorporate small quantities of radioactive material into the horns of these animals with the aim of devaluing the horn by reducing its desirability. In addition, by the inclusion of radioactive material, it makes any horns that are taken, that much more easily detectable as this contraband is moved across international borders.

“Those A levels in Physics, Chemistry and Biology certainly helped!” James added.

Poaching is responsible for the loss of just under a thousand rhinos annually, which, on this current trajectory, means South Africa’s rhinos will be nearing extinction in just nine years. The Rhisotope Project hopes to be the game changer in the fight against poaching and ultimately save the rhino.

The international partners involved include Rosatom (The Russian Nuclear Corporation), Colorado State University, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa).

Igor the Rhino

If you would like to get in touch with James to find out more, please do let us know via

We would like to wish James and his team all the best with The Rhisotope Project and will keep a keen eye on their progress.