F or poachers, a wild rhinoceros isn’t a protected species. It’s a big pay- check. Some Eastern medicine traditions say rhino horns cure certain ailments, which keeps demand—and prices—high.
A single rhino horn can sell for more than US$250,000 on the black market.
In South Africa, for example, poaching rates increased 20 percent from
2013 to 2014, and conservationists are determined to reverse the trend. That’s
why Wildlife Protection Solutions (WPS) launched a US$75,000 technology
project at a white rhino breeding ranch in South Africa’s Limpopo province in
January. The initiative uses motion sensors, cameras and
a fence-tampering detection system to prevent poaching. It uses a software program that scans images to find
potential poachers. If evidence of a suspected poacher is
discovered, real-time alerts are sent to the team members’
smartphones and computers—both at the ranch and in
the U.S. office—which allows the ranch to immediately
respond to threats.
WPS consults end users, such as park rangers, at the
start of all technology projects to tap into their knowledge
about land uses, field conditions and other location-spe-cific variables. Then, after end users adopt the technology,
the organization has follow-up meetings to determine how
it could improve the system and better meet the needs of
those in the field.
“We are continually refining the technology we are
using, modifying our software, and seeking opportunities
to share these findings with other stakeholders,” says Eric
Schmidt, executive director, WPS, Denver, Colorado, USA.
One meeting with the on-site ranch manager quickly
yielded an important revelation: Most poachers get help
from people who are supposed to protect the rhinos. So
WPS reworked its field deployment strategies.
“Our manager began to use the system to question
personnel about what they were doing in odd parts of
the property at unusual times,” Mr. Schmidt says. “The
in Their Tracks
WPS conducts a rhino darting and
treatment exercise in South Africa.