Rhinoceros poaching for their horns fetches between $7 billion and $10 billion annually, but despite anti-poaching efforts, the illegal activity has only gotten worse in the last few years.
That's why a group has come up with a new way to alert animal welfare workers in real time to poaching activity, and it involves putting a device right into the rhino's horn.
The group Protect, which says rhino poaching has increased 9,300 percent in South Africa alone since 2007, developed the Real-Time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device. It's a video camera that also monitors heart rate and locates the animal with GPS as well.
"Currently, a rhino is butchered every six hours in Africa, the issues are many, but there's far too much money at stake to believe that legislation alone can make the difference. We had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field; the killing has to be stopped," Dr. Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, said in a statement on the group's website.
"With this device, the heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, 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," O'Donoghue continued. "You can't outrun a helicopter, the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise."
Based on photos of RAPID, the technology is embedded straight into the rhino's horn, the most valuable part of the animal on the black market, worth nearly $30,000 per pound. Protect states on its website that the process of embedding the device is painless for the rhino.
Project Director Steve Piper said that the team has already completed their proof-of-concept research and will have prototypes in the field within the next few months. They're also working on similar technology for tigers and elephants as well, he said.
Dean Peinke, a mammal ecologist with the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, said on Project's website that RAPID "[tips] 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."
O'Donoghue's study about the new anti-poaching system has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
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