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How to save a rhino with drones

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  December 7, 2012 04:25 PM

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rhino photo cropped.jpg

This week South African rhinoceroses received some welcome news: Soon drone airplanes will be circling the skies to protect them from poachers.

The planes are one of several anti-poaching technologies now at the disposal of the World Wildlife Fund thanks to a $5 million grant given in the inaugural round of the Google Global Impact Awards. They’ll be unarmed and much smaller than their infamous war-on-terror cousins, and will be equipped with thermal imaging technology that will allow game rangers to identify and track poachers in Asia and Africa who target rhinos, elephants, and tigers.

For the rhinos, aerial reinforcements can’t arrive soon enough. Over the last five years rhino poaching has exploded in South Africa, home to 75 percent of the world’s rhinos, from 13 kills in 2007 to 558 so far this year. The slaughter has been driven by intense demand for rhino horns in Vietnam and China, where the horns are considered an essential ingredient in traditional medical remedies and now sell for upwards of $95,000 per kilogram—more than gold.

As the demand has increased rangers have found themselves outgunned by increasingly sophisticated poaching syndicates, which use helicopters, silenced rifles, and night vision goggles to stalk their prey. These drones won’t even the fight, but they may at least give poachers something more to think about next time they line up a shot.

For an in-depth look at the rise of rhino poaching, check out “Rhino Wars” from National Geographic and this article from The Guardian.

[Photo detail courtesy chesterzoo.org.]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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