Poaching for rhinos has become so rampant and the prospect of the species going extinct has become so real that scientists have developed an extreme measure to fight back: a hidden camera inserted into the horns of the rhinos.
The aim is for the hidden camera to provide evidence to convict poachers and act as a deterrent to poaching.
The new anti-poaching device, which combines a GPS satellite collar with a heart-rate monitor and video camera, was developed by a British team from the non-profit conservation organization Protect and has been approved by the Humane Society International.
Proof-of-concept research for the Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID) has been completed and the Protect team in South Africa is fine-tuning prototypes in the field with the first rhino prototypes expect to be out within months. The BBC story explains:
"You need to catch poachers red-handed and that's what we're setting out to do, and that's what we can do," Protect scientist Dr. Paul O'Donoghue told the BBC. "It's basically a burglar alarm for rhinos."
Rhino poaching has increased 9,300 percent since 2007. According to the Independent, there are about 25,000 wild rhinos worldwide with 80 percent of them in South Africa.
An estimated 1,000 rhinos are killed each year, and only a handful of poachers have ever been caught. RAPID aims to change that.
"The killing has to be stopped," O'Donoghue explained via a Protect press release. "With this device, the heart-rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing 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.
"You can’t outrun a helicopter; the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.”
Dean Peinke, a mammal ecologist for Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency in South Africa, said to effectively patrol the vast landscapes requires an army, but organized poachers still find ways to kill rhinos for their lucrative horns used in traditional Chinese medicine.
"These devices tip the balance strongly in our favor; if we can identify poaching events as they happen we can respond quickly and effectively to apprehend the poachers," Peinke said.
Claire Bass, the executive director of the Humane Society International in the U.K., said RAPID could be a game changer in the fight against poaching, as the technology could also be used for other critically endangered species, including tigers and elephants.
"We are excited to have this opportunity to fund the project and hope other backers will join us to get the technology into the field as quickly as possible," Bass said.
Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais is perhaps the most famous supporter of RAPID.
"We finally have the technology to catch these people red handed, and if they know that then they’ll think twice before killing another beautiful rhino," Gervais said. "Finally we might have a fighting chance of saving this astonishing species from extinction, I strongly urge everyone to support this project."
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