By Stacey Cohen
Rhino poaching has become more widespread in recent years, and it is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Poachers target these animals because of the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries; the horns have practical medical uses, but many people collect them as a status symbol to showcase their success and wealth. Luckily, a new technology that plants a camera and other technologies inside of the rhino horn may act as a strong deterrent to poachers so that rhino lives can be saved.At the beginning of the 20th century, rhino populations were at a healthy number; there were an estimated 500,000 rhinos living throughout Africa and Asia. However, as demand for rhino horn has gone up, the worldwide population of the animals has gone down. There are currently only five species of rhino left on Earth, and all of them are classified as a “threatened species” according to the IUCN Redlist. Three out of those five species are further classified as “critically endangered”.
For a while there was an effort made by activists to create a synthetic rhino horn for those who wanted to collect them. Unfortunately, they found that it was only a matter of time before those who bought the synthetic horn would want to trade up for the real thing. After this failure, activists have decided to focus their energies on catching poachers in the act.
The Protect project
The goal of the Protect project is to provide a strong deterrent for poachers who would kill rhinos for their horns. They plan on accomplishing this by putting video cameras, GPS trackers, and heart-rate sensors inside the horns of living rhinos. The system is known as Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device).
The whle system was developed at the University of Chester by biologist Dr. Paul O’Donoghue. He created a tracker and heart rate monitor that could be implanted inside the horns of living rhinos. Along with the camera, these pieces of technology are able to transmit health and wellness information to a central control center.
If the rhino is attacked by poachers and its heart rate stops, which it would if the poachers were intent on getting the horn, then a signal would be sent to a security team that could respond to the rhino’s location. It is estimated that the team could be on-site within minutes of getting a distress signal in order to catch the poachers before they could get away. If there are difficulties with catching the offenders, then the camera footage can reveal what they looked like.
As of right now, there aren’t many anti-poaching agencies doing this type of work. The patrol area for rhino habitats is too large, so conviction rates for poachers have been relatively low. The Protect system can go a long way toward rectifying this and keeping rhinos safe. Researchers have already completed a proof of concept study, but they are still working on refining prototypes for the new technologies. The first of these prototypes should be available within months. If they are successful, then researchers hope to create other versions of the technologies for endangered species such as tigers and elephants. A fully staffed control center is scheduled to be completed sometime in the early part of next year.