In addition to their thick, leathery hide and imposing stature, now a group of African rhinos have one more tool to help protect them against poachers -- GPS locating devices embedded directly into their horns. Five such animals in South Africa's Mafikeng Game Reserve were recently equipped with the small tracking chips which will help park officials monitor their movements and alert them to any possible threats from illegal hunting. Conservationists hope that by upgrading the animals with technology of the 21st century it may help ensure this endangered species will still be around at the end of it.According to a report from the BBC, after initial testing earlier this, five rhinos on the reserve were equipped with the GPS chips. Park veterinarians were able to add the tracking devices with very little discomfort to the animal, by placing it in hole drilled into a 'dead' portion of the animals' horns.
The satellite locating device can be monitored by cell phone, allowing officials to know the rhinos' whereabouts and to be alerted to any suspicious movements within the park -- or a concerning lack of movement.
Lead security officer of the park, Rusty Hustler, explains to the BBC how the GPS chips will help officials protect the animals from threats from poachers when an alarm sounds indicating unusual activity:
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.
Not only will the tracking devices help keep the rhinos alive, says Hustler, but it also could be used to track down any poachers who manage to hack off the chipped horns and elude the authorities. And given the likely success of the program, soon more rhinos may be similarly tagged in the future and in other wildlife reserves throughout the region.
A bit of extra protection couldn't come any sooner for the Africa's endangered rhino population. In recent years the animals have been under increasing threat from the onslaught of poachers who can make a small fortune selling their prized horns in the illegal wildlife trade. Some cultures believe that rhino horns have medicinal qualities -- though they're composed primarily of keratin, like fingernails.
But perhaps, where logic and stepped-up enforcement have failed thus far in adequately protecting one of the world's most majestic and endangered species, this technical upgrade could actually be the thing that helps save them. And, with any luck, we can return to Rhino Beta before too long.
More on the Plight of Endangered Rhinos
Rhino Horn Now Worth More Than Gold
Ultra-Rare, Perhaps the Last Remaining, Javan Rhino Found Killed
China Importing Rhinos to Harvest Their Horns?