You thought poacher-monitoring drones were the next big thing? Think again: this rhino-wearable (and durable!) technology may be the very thing that saves one of our favorite ivory-horned mammals from the brink of extinction.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researcher Paul O'Donoghue noted that "an estimated $7-10 billion annually, the global trade in illegal wildlife parts is comparable in economic value to human trafficking, and the smuggling of weapons and drugs," and that "anti-poaching rangers often arrive too late at crime scenes to arrest criminals, making poaching a low-risk and high-gains enterprise." 

Here enters the Protect Rapid (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device), a gizmo that synthesizes a collar with GPS satellite tracking, a video camera and a heart monitor.

Created by O'Donoghue, the basic function of Protect Rapid is to closely surveil the movements of rhinos wearing the device, as well as their heart rate. This synergetic triad is meant to preclude the act of poaching: when a spike in heart rate occurs, operators at a central control base can flip on the video cam, assess the situation and head on over to the proscribed emergency site, the quadrants of which are dictated by the GPS.

What about recharging the device? Easy as pie: the collar comes equipped with solar panels to prolong battery life.

There is one questionable step in regard to wearing and activating the device: a hole must be drilled into a rhino's tusk for the camera to be properly inserted and embedded, rendering the technology wearable. However, this ethical dilemma is one more about disfigurement than torture: rhino horns are made up of keratin, the same material as human fingernails; ergo, as long as the hole is not bored into the base of the tusk, the rhino feels no pain. Keratin also regenerates, making the hole impermanent to begin with.

In a special press release issued by the Humane Society International UK (HSI/UK), which sponsors the Protect Rapid, O'Donoghue once again highlighted the need for innovated protective tech for endangered animals like the rhino:

"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."

As for the future of the Protect Rapid, if all goes according to plan? Using it to protect a multitude of endangered species, all fighting the good fight against the poachers who are bent on their destruction for the sake of commerce.


Photo: Steve Glasgow | Flickr

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