Tech

Rhinos given horn cameras to help catch poachers

Since 2007, the poaching of rhinos has increased 9,300 percent - which is mind-blowing. 

That's a leap from 13 recorded poachings in 2007, to 1,215 in 2014, part of a deeply concerning trend that's threatening to see species such as the black rhino disappear within the next few years. 

An unlikely tech aid to help protect the few remaining black rhinos has been launched by Protect, an animal welfare and conservation group. Their RAPID system (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device) "augments" the rhino with a variety of devices including cameras, heart rate monitors and GPS trackers. 

While they may sound invasive, all of the tech implants have had the full backing of leading rhino veterinarians and conservationists. Having safely sedated a rhino, Protect's workers are able to install heart rate monitors and a GPS device under the thick armoured skin of the rhino. Should the anti-poaching team see a spike in the rhino's heart rate, its location will be sent to them. A camera, installed by drilling a small hole (painlessly) in the rhino's horn, then allows them to confirm if there are poachers on the scene, allowing them to respond by launching a helicopter.

It's hoped that these tech measures - which hugely increase the chances of catching poachers in the act - will be a serious deterrent. Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, who has worked with endangered black rhino populations for more than 15 years, believes that legislation alone won't make enough of a difference to stopping the killing. "With this device, the heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs," explains O'Donoghue, "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."

Having completed testing on the RAPID tech, it's hoped that the system can be rolled out into regions including South Africa in the near future. For an idea of just what the rhino horn camera captures, check out the following video.