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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.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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