A few weeks we wrote about the scourge of rhino poaching and gave statistics as to the severity of the situation as well as proposing various alternatives to stop this bloody war. In this article we look at two different technological solutions to improve rhino security and diminish its attraction to potential poachers.

On the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand made famous by the late conservationist Lawrence Anthony, rhinos have had their horns injected or infused with a compound of red dye and depot ectoparasiticides (otc drugs normally used to treat parasites in animals). The horn is so contaminated that it renders it useless for ornamental or medicinal use (including human consumption). Simultaneously, a full DNA sample is harvested and three identification microchips are inserted into the horns and the animal itself. This is all completely safe for the animal and there are absolutely no ill effects.

If someone does then attempt to ingest the rhino horn (in powder form), it can cause serious illness, including diarrhoea, nausea and in extreme cases can cause convulsions and nervous disorders. The dye alerts any potential buyer of the rhino horn that it is treated and unsuitable for human consumption. It is also visible when put through an x-ray machine and can therefore be picked up by airport scanners and seized by the relevant authorities.

The rhinos also have microchips inserted and in the case of the Thula Thula rhinos, a GPS and radio tracking device. The tracking device means the rhino can be monitored at all times and, if the horn is removed, it can easily be traced.

The second innovation, whilst not as dramatic as infusing a horn, is just as important in this fight. Michael Grover is a conservationist at the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in the Kruger National Park. Whilst managing the anti poaching operations, he wanted to be more effective and consequently implement a more intelligent plan of attack. Grover wanted to know where and when the break-ins were occurring, how the rhinos were being attacked and who were behind the killings. Grover searched the internet and found an app he could adapt to the specific needs of the operation.

For example, he could harvest data from the daily patrols and map the points to show patterns in how intrusions were occurring. His anti-poaching team were all equipped with smartphones and could take, for example, tagged photos of rhino slayings or cuts in the perimeter fencing to learn how the poachers were getting into the reserve and what types of weapons were being used. They also recorded traceable photos of footprints that could be put into a database and matched against other images to see if the intruders were repeat offenders. All this data is now being shared with the Kruger NP itself as well as the surrounding private reserves.

These are just two examples of innovative thinking to tackle a sophisticated and resourceful criminal trade. Whilst not solutions in themselves, we hope that they can stem the tide just enough to help reverse the bloody trend.

If you need further proof that a real war of survival is being waged, we have just been informed that in west Africa, no wild black rhinos (Diceros bicornis longipes)  remain in existence. This sub species has been declared extinct according to the latest  Red List, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The eradication of this particular branch of the rhino family is solely due to lack of appropriate security according to Simon Stuart, chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “They had the misfortune of occurring in places where we simply weren’t able to get the necessary security in place. You’ve got to imagine an animal walking around with a gold horn; that’s what you’re looking at, that’s the value and that’s why you need incredibly high security.”

Rhino Wars by Nicolas Edwards

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