In Brief
  • At least 5,940 African rhinos have been killed by poachers since 2008, 1,175 of which were killed in 2015 in South Africa alone.
  • The robo-rhino, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered robot that can track the herd from the inside, is just one high-tech solution being explored to combat poachers.

Poachers Beware

With all the environmental problems posed by pressing phenomena like climate change, it’s easy to forget that there are other man-made threats which endanger animals. One such problem is the illegal wildlife trade, which is estimated to be a $19 billion business worldwide.

One of the most at-risk animals is the rhino. That’s why a mechanical engineer has a wacky new idea: robotic rhinos. These babies could stay with and track rhinos 24/7, and alert patrols when poachers are nearby.

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Image Credit: KAAN YAYLALI/Wired

The illegal rhino trade is a big one: at least 5,940 African rhinos have been killed since 2008, 1,175 of which were killed in 2015 in South Africa alone. The main reason they are poached is for their horns. Street prices for a rhino horn in Asia were, roughly, $60,000-100,000 per kilogram in 2013.

And so, to combat this, the robo-rhino concept was born. Called Rakamera, it’s a robot that would essentially mimic rhinos so that a herd would accept it, and allow it to monitor them from the inside.

The undercover bot would be powered by hydrogen fuel cells and would have internal hydraulics and servomotors for locomotion. It could be outfitted with infrared sensors and cameras to track both the movements of the herd and any human activities.

Turning to Technology

While this may seem like a far-out answer to the poaching problem, many other high-tech solutions are already being explored. For example, one company wanted to flood the black market with 3D printed synthetic horns, but the idea was universally opposed by conservation groups.

On a more conventional note, anti-poaching groups have taken to using infrared cameras, UAVs, spatial monitoring tools, and many other high-tech devices to catch criminals. These are most often used to track humans who get too close to protected areas.

Ultimately, the solution will have to come by way of destroying the demand. Myths of the curative properties of these horns will have to be dispelled, and people must be taught the value of wildlife conservation. Until then, technology will have to stand guard over our animals.