Rhinoceros poaching has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years, and conservationists have been stepping up their efforts to fight this scourge by turning to new technologies like motion-triggered, satellite-connected remote cameras and drones.
In a new twist on conservationist tech, a British nonprofit conservation organization called Protect is experimenting with a system of wearable gadgets that will alert monitors of rhinos being threatened by poachers. Called RAPID ("Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device"), the system consists of a camera embedded in the rhino's horn, a GPS tracking collar around the animal's neck, and a heart rate monitor to keep tabs on its pulse. These wearables will be "broadcasting 24/7 real time information to a control centre, [so that] anti-poaching teams can be alerted and dispatched to poaching events within seconds of them taking place."
The devices are currently being tested in a pilot program in South Africa, which has the largest rhino populations worldwide. According to Protect's press release, rhino poaching has increased 9,300 percent since 2007 in South Africa alone, but the problem is widespread on the continent, as Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, explains:
Currently a rhino is butchered every six hours in Africa, the issues are many, but there's far too much money at stake to believe that legislation alone can make the difference, we had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field; the killing has to be stopped.
With this device, the heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing the location within a few metres so that rangers can be on the scene via helicopter or truck within minutes, leaving poachers no time to harvest the valuable parts of an animal or make good an escape. You can't outrun a helicopter, the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.
Here's a video of how these cameras provide a view around the rhino:
Though it may seem harmful to install a camera in a rhino's horn, the program's supporters -- which include local government agencies and Humane Society International -- believe that it can act as a powerful deterrent to poachers. In addition, the technology could be an effective method of real-time patrolling of vast landscapes that would be otherwise impossible to monitor.
Could this be the future in the fight against poaching? This is literally a life or death situation, and drastic circumstances often require drastic measures. If all goes well, Protect is aiming to try its wearables on other endangered species like tigers, elephants and sea turtles in other parts of the world. For more info and to donate, visit Protect.