Over the past few years, conservationists have cooked up all kinds of clever ways to fight the scumbags we know as poachers. They’ve tried watching over rhinos and elephants with surveillance planes, flooding the market with fake ivory to decrease demand for the real stuff, and even scaring the bejeezus out of herds with quadcopter drones to route them away from traps. But despite these efforts, poachers are still winning the battle. African white rhinos are just a couple years from complete extinction, and there are less than 5,000 of the black variety left in the wild, so we desperately need to update our strategies if we’re going to keep them from dying off entirely.
The latest plan comes from a conservation group known as Protect. The organization has developed a new anti-poaching system called RAPID (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device) that aims to solve the problem by embedding video cameras directly into the horns of the remaining rhino population, thereby making it easier for authorities to catch poachers in the act. Armed with this footage, prosecutors would then be able to identify individual poachers and put them on trial. The idea is that this system will deter would-be poachers from actually going through with it in the first place.
The cameras (which are only a few inches big at their widest point) are designed to be embedded inside the rhino’s horn with minimal harm to the animal. In addition to these cameras, the rhinos will also be outfitted with heart rate monitors and satellite-based tracking collars, so conservationists can triangulate an animal’s location and send out help in a matter of minutes.
“We had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field — the killing has to be stopped,” Dr. Paul O’Donaghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, said in a press release. “With this device, the heart-rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pin-pointing 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.”
The Protect team has already completed their proof of concept research, and is now preparing to fine-tune the RAPID prototypes it’s got out in the field in South Africa. “We expect to have the first rhino prototypes out within months, and are just beginning development on versions for tigers and elephants,”Protect Director Steve Piper said. “We hope to have a fully functional control centre established early next year. The figures make it painfully clear; there is no time to waste, the tide has to be turned and the Protect RAPID can do it; the only thing heading for extinction over the next decade is poaching itself.”
Let’s hope this tech-based solution can turn the tide.