Conservationists have made 3-D printed rhino horn alternatives, deployed supercomputer-powered drones to catch poachers, and even injected pink poison into horns, all in the hope of saving rhinos from extinction.
Now, scientists are using the rhino itself as a living drone by inserting a camera into its horn—a painless procedure, according to conservationists. Besides gathering awesome footage of what life looks like from the rhino point of view, the system combines cameras, GPS trackers, and heart rate monitors to give park rangers the ability to catch poachers in the act.
“We’re going to fit rhinos with monitors, bio-loggers, things like heart-rate sensors and pressure sensors that will detect the precise moment a rhino is killed,” British scientist Paul Donahue of Chester University told BBC News. “It’s basically a burglar alarm for rhinos.”
So, Why Should You Care? In South Africa’s vast national parks, rhino poachers often go undetected until reports of a days-old dead rhino filter into park officials. By then, the poachers are long gone, and the horns they have stolen could be on their way to fill the demand for Vietnamese and Chinese traditional medicines. The poaching epidemic has skyrocketed in recent years, with a record 1,215 rhinos killed last year alone, claiming 5 percent of the country’s 25,500 black and white rhinos. At that rate, wild rhinos could be extinct in South Africa in under a decade.
That’s where Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device) comes in.
“Currently, a rhino is butchered every six hours in Africa. We had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field—the killing has to be stopped,” said Chester University’s Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, who is also the chief scientific adviser for Protect, in a press release. “With this device, the heart-rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing the location within a few meters 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,” Donahue said.
The project is still in early field-testing stages but has already received the backing of conservation groups like Humane Society International and World Wildlife Fund. The team is also working on prototypes for Africa’s other endangered animals, including elephants, tigers, and lions.
“Reducing market demand is critical to safeguard wildlife long-term, but it needs to be coupled with urgent, effective action to stop the current poaching crisis,” said Humane Society U.K. director Claire Bass. “The Protect RAPID could be a game changer.”