A rhinoceros horn is worth more than its weight in gold. The horns are highly prized in some Asian countries as a purported medical cure-all. Roughly a third of the world's 5,000 black rhinos and thousands more of the less rare, yet also highly prized, white rhinos reside in the southwestern African nation of Namibia.
In neighboring South Africa, government officials watched helplessly as poachers slaughtered more than 1,000 rhinos last year. Namibia, meanwhile, lost just two of the animals. Much of this success can be attributed to Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), which takes rhino protection very seriously.
Now, the WWF is working closely with MET to help it take its surveillance capabilities to a new, stronger level. Supported by a $5 million Google Global Impact award received at the end of 2012, WWF and MET have recently completed testing of a real-time surveillance system designed to stealthily detect poachers before they can kill rhinos. The system, which employs RFID and other cutting-edge tracking and monitoring technologies, also minimizes risk to the park rangers dedicated to protecting these endangered animals.
Many poachers in the North of the country are veterans of military conflicts in Angola and elsewhere, WWF reports, and generally have extensive equipment and supplies. "Poachers were getting really effective at their business," Allan says. "We were looking at ways we could cause them as much trouble as possible."
From the outset, the solution was developed to create a seamless surveillance and communications environment capable of supporting air- and ground-based survey and tracking systems, effective communications for park rangers and the opportunity for immediate site-based data correlation. The project uses many of the latest and most effective surveillance and communication tools, Allan says. "We looked at a number of different technologies over the years and saw how they were advancing," he says.
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