June 13, 2013

High-tech Anti-poaching Strategy Used to Save Rhinos

This morning, I heard a troubling story on the radio. According to the NPR report, rhinos around the world are being killed in record numbers.

Her gaze may look gentle, but this mother rhinoceros is fierce--especially when protecting her young.

Her gaze may look gentle, but this mother rhinoceros is fierce–especially when protecting her young.

What has made rhinos the target of a mass slaughter? Turns out, rhinoceros horns are worth a fortune on the black market. Ground into a powder, their horns are used in parts of the world as a cure for everything from fever to cancer. There isn’t much scientific evidence to support these claims, but many people still believe the horns have healing powers and that is why they are so valuable. Thus, the killing continues. In South Africa, the country with the largest rhino population, over 600 rhinos were killed illegally last year.

The story, though sad, did have a hopeful ending. Authorities are stepping up efforts to capture poachers. Recently they began using drones, small unmanned aircraft with infrared cameras, to identify poachers at night when they do most of their hunting. Once spotted, Rangers are given the poachers location so they can address the situation. Ultimately, officials believe the drone strategy will save the lives of many rhinos.

I sure hope they are right. In the Kalahari Desert, we had the good fortune of seeing rhinos at very close range. We were on foot, trekking through the desert brush when we found ourselves face-to-face with a family of white rhinos — two babies and two adults. Suddenly the babies moved in our direction. Determined to protect her young, the mother threatened to charge. My hands were shaking as I tried to film the scene. It was a tense standoff to be sure, but the rhinos ultimately turned and trotted off. The experience actually inspired the dramatic rhino scene that’s in our first book, Travels with Gannon & Wyatt Botswana.

Gannon quietly observes a rhino in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana

Gannon quietly observes a rhino in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana

Safely back in our tent camp, we were left with an overwhelming appreciation for the spectacular environment of the Kalahari. That such a magnificent creature, so massive and pre-historic, still roams freely upon the earth is credit to conservationists who have worked tirelessly to protect the rhino’s wilderness habitat. As this morning’s story proves, the battle continues. In the end, however, I believe the effort to save these animals will prevail over the destructive intent of poachers. Let’s make sure that it does.