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Brooks, M., 1998. Chairman's report: African Rhino Specialist Group. Pachyderm 26: 1-2

Location: Africa
Subject: Management
Species: African Rhino Species

Original text on this topic:
The AfRSG is coordinating a major project so that law enforcement staff will be able to source confiscated rhino horn. To do this, it was necessary to build upon successful, pilot horn fingerprinting projects and undertake a major project to determine the chemical composition of the major rhino populations in the African range states. Funding came from WWF.
After much effort significant progress has been made by the AFRSG office in getting samples for analysis from as many of the Continent's key and important rhino populations as possible. Additional samples leftover from early pilot studies at the University of Cape Town were also secured by the AfRSG's Scientific Officer to increase sample sizes and coverage. After thorough consultation and investigation it was decided to analyse the raw horn samples using three different techniques.
First, Inductively-Coupled-Plasma-Optical-Emission-Spectrometry (ICP-OES) is being used to quantify trace elements in preference to the more old-fashioned, time consuming and more expensive Neutron-Activation-Analysis (NAA) used in the pilot studies. The ICP-OES analysis measures concentrations of 31 elements (measured in low parts per million) and 13 element ratios.
Secondly, samples are also being analysed using Laser-Ablation-Inductively-Coupled-Plasma-Mass-Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). This technique is routinely used to fingerprint gold and recently has been successfully used to investigate stock theft. LA-ICP-MS is a qualitative technique with horn being sampled using a laser, and analysed in a Mass Spectrometer. The detection limits are in the parts per million and parts per billion region, and data are being obtained on 131 isotopes of 56 elements.
Thirdly, the horn samples are also being analysed for the fighter carbon and nitrogen stable isotopic ratios at the University of Cape Town.
Both the ICP-OES and LA-ICP-MS work is being undertaken by Anglo American Research Laboratories who have tailor-made statistical software which has the capacity to analyse the raw horn fingerprinting data from all 3 techniques.
The decisions on how and where to analyse the samples were made on the grounds of cost, time and labour needed both to prepare and analyse samples, continuity of analytical methodology, modernity of techniques, a preference to be able to do the analyses locally in Africa, the credibility and professionalism of the labs and institutions involved in sample analysis, and the availability of tailor-made statistical software that can be used to analyse the data.
All horn samples in the AfRSG's possession have been prepared for analysis and both the Anglo American and Cape Town labs have been sent the first batch of samples.
This project will be completed during 1999, and the results are being eagerly awaited by law enforcement officers and wildlife investigators.

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