"Horn-cams" could protect rhinos from poachers

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A rhino sporting one of the RAPID Cameras(Credit: Protect)

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It wasn't long ago that we heard about an effort to create synthetic rhino horn, the low price of which could be used to put suppliers of real horn out of business. Now, however, the Protect project is aiming at catching poachers in the act. Amongst other things, it would involve putting video cameras in the horns of living rhinos.

The project centers around a system known as Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device), which was developed by University of Chester biologist Dr. Paul O'Donoghue. He's one of the members of the Protect consortium, a UK-based non-profit group of "conservation and animal welfare experts" that's backed by Humane Society International.

Along with the horn-cam, the system also incorporates a GPS satellite collar and a heart rate monitor, which are likewise put onto sedated wild rhinos. Plans call for it to constantly transmit data to a central control center, and immediately send an alert if it detects that the animal's heart has stopped.

When this happens, staff at the center could check that animal's video feed, both to confirm that it's been poached and also possibly to catch the faces of the poachers on camera. They would then dispatch a security team to the rhino's present GPS coordinates. Traveling by helicopter or truck, that team could reportedly be on-site within minutes, catching the poachers before they had time to remove the horn and get away.

As things stand currently, there are simply too few anti-poaching personnel trying to patrol too large of an area, resulting in very low conviction rates.

"Proof of concept research has already been completed and our South African team are now preparing to fine-tune prototypes in the field, we expect to have the first rhino prototypes out within months and are just beginning development on versions for tigers and elephants," says Steve Piper, Director of Protect. "We hope to have a fully functional control center established early next year."

The Airware and AREND projects have also been working at catching poachers, by using drones to patrol rhino populations.

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