A new plan to embed cameras in rhino horns is the latest effort to protect them from poachers. Although loved and admired around the world, the rhinoceros is an animal in peril. One of the last and largest remaining megafauna, it is a relic of a time when magnificent mammals ruled the world. Unfortunately, its time may be running out. With only 61 living individuals in 2013, the Javan Rhinoceros is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet and its cousins are not far behind. Only 25,000 African rhinos remain in the wild and scientists are relying on modern technology to protect them. The horn implant, called Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device), incorporates a camera, GPS, and heart-rate monitor to help conservationists capture poachers largely responsible for the demise of these ancient animals.
Rhino defenders need all the help they can get. Since 2007, there’s been a 9,000 percent increase in rhinoceros poaching, in part due to greater demand for ivory in Asia. RAPID allows rescuers to respond rapidly if an animal is attacked by poachers. Any video footage captured by first responders is further evidence used to identify and convict these criminals. “With this device,” says Paul O’Donoghue, researcher on Project RAPID, “the heart-rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pin-pointing 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. RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.”
The first field tests for RAPID should begin next year in Eastern Cape Parks, South Africa. However, this is only part of the larger strategy to protect the rhinos. “Reducing market demand is critical to safeguard wildlife long term, but it needs to be coupled with urgent, effective action to stop the current poaching crisis,” says Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society UK.