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Researchers are Fitting Rhinos With Hidden Horn Cameras

One non-profit wants to outfit the animals with cameras and heart rate monitors to save them

Two black rhinos, a mother and her calf, explore a watering hole at Etosha National Park in Namibia. (Yathin S Krishnappa/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
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To combat poaching, one conservation group is giving South African Rhinos implants, Amar Toor reports for The Verge. The U.K. non-profit Protect is imbedding cameras in rhino horns and equipping the animals with heart rate monitors and GPS collars or tags. The group calls their combination of gadgets the Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device or (RAPID).

The effort is the latest in a trend of conservationists turning to tech, notes Toor. Other groups employed drones and microchips as part of efforts to save species from poachers and other threats.

Rhinos outfitted with the RAPID system serve as a sort of mobile surveillance system, as Paul O’Donohue, a biologist at the University of Chester and a scientific advisor on the project, explains in a statement. An abnormal uptick in heart rate or glimpses of poachers in the video footage alerts a control center that can send park rangers or local authorities by helicopter or truck to the animal’s GPS coordinates.

“You're looking at a fraction of a second from a rhino getting stressed or upset to the alarm being raised,” Steve Piper, director of Protect, told Toor. In addition to helping track and catch poaching groups, Piper hopes that even the sight of cameras and collars will serve as a preventative measure — deterring poachers from even attacking the animals to begin with.

Implanting cameras in the horns is painless, and imbedding heart monitors under the skin poses no threat to the animal, writes Michael Zhang for Peta Pixel. The camera can transmit footage 24/7 or be turned on and off as needed when the heart rate monitor triggers an alert. The heart rate monitor battery might have to be replaced a few times over the course of the animal’s life, though, notes Toor.

Earlier this summer, Protect announced a field trial with black rhinos in South Africa. The IUCN lists black rhinos as critically endangered, and though South Africa is home to the largest population, they’ve seen increased poaching in recent years, notes Toor. They hope to develop similar technology to keep tabs on tigers in Sumatra and sea turtles in the Caribbean.

Here's the view from one of the rhino horn cameras:

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

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