#WorldRhinoDay: How tech is helping to save one of Africa’s Big Five in SA

Today is World Rhino Day, a day set aside to put emphasis on spreading awareness about Rhino poaching and taking a stand against it.

And the sad truth is that there’s not much to be cheerful about. Over 700 Rhino had been poached in South Africa by 11th September this year already, compared to 333 by the same time in 2010, according to Stop Rhino Poaching, which clearly indicates that the crisis is getting worse.

Technology has become vital in the cause to stop Rhino poaching in game reserves and major parks around Southern Africa. Here are four technologies helping researchers, rangers and authorities crack down on poachers.


ShotStopper was recently introduced into the Kruger National Park, where the most incidents of Rhino poaching are recorded. Originally from the US, ShotSpotter is used to detect fired shots in a specific area. Microphones have been placed around the Kruger Park so that when a shot from an unknown source is fired, the origin of the gunshot sound is triangulated and sent to the service provider in the US.

Shots from as far as three kilometres can be picked up from a microphone. Coordinates of the shots are then sent to a Kruger operations center within 30 seconds, making it possible to deploy rangers and helicopters to the location.

eRhODIS app

Last year, Samsung partnered with University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics laboratory at the Faculty of Veterinary Science to develop an app to support the Rhinoceros DNA Index System (RhODIS), a tool used to link recovered rhinoceros horn to poaching cases.

The eRhODIS app gathers data such as DNA evidence, geographical data and photos which is then used as evidence to support several cases involving poachers and traffickers.

“It links the suspect to a specific crime scene through matching DNA from recovered horns and weapons used to kill animals. The database also includes DNA profiles of live rhinoceros and horn in stockpiles, which further provides a powerful tool for authorities to trace and link each animal and horn individually. The archive presently includes over 10,000 samples from black and white rhinoceros from all over Africa,” according to Samsung.

eRhODIS guides users authorised to use the RhODIS kits through the procedure used to collect samples and enter data using a  Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Falcon UAV drones

Credit: CC College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Falcon UAV drones helped rangers, researchers, authorities and rangers get a bird’s eye view over the Olifants West Game Reserve and The Karongwe Game Reserve in pilot trials held last year to see how drones can be effectively deployed to hunt down Rhino poachers.

Aerial photography missions during the evening helped locate suspected poacher camping and training sites. Attahced to each drone was either a  Tamarisk 320 or Tamarisk 640 camera which provide night time footage, autopilot and mission planner software was hooked up the drones to feed data back to researchers.

However, some UAV experiments have fallen foul of the aviation authority’s warning that drones are currently illegal in South Africa.

Rocky Mountain GPS Trackers

In KwaZulu-Natal, Rocky Mountain GPS Trackers are helping the Wildlife Conservation Trust to dart and monitor Rhinos in the province. Rhinos are tracked according to their GPS coordinates and helicopters used to locate them as well as Rhino monitors on the ground.

Rhinos are monitored on a daily basis to determine their population and identify new Rhinos that need to be darted.

To find out about local initiatives and events in support of anti-poaching, visit the World Rhino day website. Sadly, one technology not yet commonly used in South Africa is injecting living rhino’s horns with poison. Noseweek ran an intriguing story about this in its latest issue, in which it suggests the government is holding back this potentially species-saving inventi0n in case it devalues the stockpile of horn owned nationally which can’t be sold any way. Read all about that over here.

[Main image – CC Flick Paul Baker]


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