The rhinoceros is one of the most endangered animals in Africa, but GPS trackers may help to save it. The reason for the animal’s critical status is the value of its horn, which in its powdered form now rivals the price of gold. This powder is used in several traditional Asian medicines. The desire to obtain this valuable commodity has driven poachers to kill more than 500 rhinos in the past year alone.
The Rhino and Nature Preserve in South Africa has launched a new effort, called the Rhino Rescue Project, to combat this problem. Rather than try to prevent the poaching or even catch the poachers, their plan is to eliminate the demand for the rhino horn and thus remove the reason for the poaching. In order for their method to work, however, they must first catch the rhino. That task achieved, they then inject the horn of the rhino with a bright, indelible dye (like that used by banks in robberies), a GPS microchip, and a non-lethal poison (harmful to humans not the rhino). Each of these items plays its own unique role in discouraging further poaching. The dye turns the rhino’s horn pink, thus destroying its value and making it difficult to transport since the color remains even after the horn is ground to powder. The poison makes the powder of the horn useless as a medicine since it will cause nausea and vomiting in any human that ingests it. The GPS trackers enable conservationists to track the locations of the treated rhinos. Some of these trackers are programmed to send out an alarm if the rhino begins to move rapidly, as would occur if it was being pursued by poachers. This information can enable the poachers to be caught red-handed, hopefully before they successfully kill the rhino. If they do manage to get away with their prize, the GPS device contained in the horn will reveal their location to law enforcement officials.
The Rhino Rescue Project has been busy spreading the news through signage and word of mouth that rhinos have been treated in this way and are thus useless to poachers. They report that their efforts have paid off as no treated rhinos have been killed in the Preserve since they began the project. Dye, poison, and GPS trackers seem to be doing a good job of protecting the rhinos.