Rhinoceros and elephant populations are being decimated as poaching for their horns is still widespread.
Some governments have de-horned rhinos to deter poachers, though that requires constant monitoring, and it has not always proven effective. More recently, conservationists have begun using drones and microchip implants to enhance surveillance of threatened population.
In 2014, Paul O’Donoghue, a biologist at Protect, a British non-profit focused on conservation and animal welfare developed the Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID).
This system uses GPS tags, heart rate monitors embedded under the skin of rhinos. If the animal’s heart rate suddenly elevates or plummets, RAPID will send an alert to operators at a control center, who can then remotely activate a tiny camera implanted into the rhino’s horn.
A leather collar around the animal’s neck also tracks its GPS coordinates, allowing park authorities to quickly deploy anti-poaching forces if the live camera footage suggests that it is being attacked.
By 2015, Protect had moved from proof-of-concept trials to small-scale field testing at secret locations in South Africa with the plan for a larger scale launching across the continent. Protect also began to explore alternative ways to power the heart monitor battery, including solar and kinetic energy.
The organization said that RAPID could also be adapted to other threatened species such as elephants, lions, or even whales. A version for tigers was also in development. (hsi.org/rhinos)
Raoul du Toit, director of the Lowveld Rhino Trust in Zimbabwe and Africa Program Coordinator for the International Rhino Foundation told The Washington Post “the downside is that the video camera is likely to last only hours, maybe days or at best weeks on a rhino before being smashed, obscured with dirt, or otherwise rendered useless”.
Moreover, even if the device was able to alert authorities to a potential poaching incident, it is unlikely that on-the-ground forces would be able to respond as quickly as required.
Another alternative is dye.
In April 2013, takepart magazine reported that 100 rhino from Sabi Sands Game Reserve, part of Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, had their horns drilled and a liquid poison/dye mix injected by the Rhino Rescue Project in an effort to deter poachers and devalue the price of horn.
Since then, it has been reported that rhino from a number of reserveshave been similarly treated, including:
- Dinokeng Game Reserve (Gauteng)
- Plumari Private Game Reserve (Gauteng)
- Ndumo Game Reserve (KwaZulu-Natal)
- Tembe Elephant Park (KwaZulu-Natal) and
- Kapama Private Game Reserve (Limpopo)
Leon Barron from King’s College London and Mark Moseley from the Metropolitan Police Service have collaborated to develop an ivory fingerprint kit, which has been dispatched to more than 40 countries.
They told BBC Future “The powder it contains can reveal prints up to 28 days after poachers have touched the ivory, compared to two or three days with conventional methods”.
Barron also recently showed that it is possible to determine the age of a person from the DNA contained in their blood, using artificial intelligence. The hope is that this can be replicated and validated for blood stains at crime scenes, and potentially used to solve future wildlife crimes.
Jamal Firmat Banzi, “A Sensor Based Anti-Poaching System in Tanzania National Parks,” International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research Volume 4(4), April 2014; Pachyderm No. 55 January – July 2014.
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