This horn camera for rhinos will bring poachers to justice
The rhinoceros is an endangered species, and the main reason for this is its horn. Actually, that’s blaming the victim: the main reason is that humans want to take its horn for entirely selfish reasons, usually based on flimsy pseudoscience. This greed has seen the price of rhino horn hitting £41,000 per kilogram – more than heroin and cocaine, for those with one eye on illegal trading stocks and shares.
“This greed has seen the price of rhino horn hitting £41,000 per kilogram – more than heroin and cocaine.”
The low-tech prevention measures widely in place only make the commodity more desirable, and drive up the price further – they carry a risk, but they’re not reliable enough to be an effective deterrent. The latest technological measure promises to change all that, and comes straight out of the good old-fashioned home-security playbook: a burglar alarm for rhinoceroses.
It’s a British-made system called Protect RAPID – a slightly forced acronym for “Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device”. The system is partly installed within the horn itself, and comprises of a camera, a heart-rate monitor and a satellite-tracking collar that enables an extremely rapid response if a rhino is killed. The footage could then be used to ensure the poachers pay for their crime to the full extent of the law.
It’s the brainchild of Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Chester University, who has been working with under-threat rhino populations for over a decade. “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,” he explained.
“You can’t outrun a helicopter. RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.”
The hope is that the system can be adapted to other endangered creatures including elephants and tigers, pending a successful trial when RAPID is rolled out in South Africa early next year. South Africa is the home of around 80% of the world’s 25,000 rhinos, making it the number one destination for poachers.
Anti-poaching efforts have an interesting track record, and we’ve come a long way from the expensive and fallible 24-hour-guard model that’s been favoured in the past.
We’ve seen technological solutions ranging from drones stopping poachers in their tracks and horns being poisoned for humans with fabulous pink dye, all the way to supply-side economic tinkering by flooding the market with fake 3D-printed horns.
Given that humans created the problems for rhinos in the first place, hopefully we can be part of the solution that puts an end to poaching once and for all.
Image via Erik Junberger, used under Creative Commons