Robotic Technology to Preserve Wildlife: A Scenario
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
by Princess Aliyah Pandolfi
A new flying robotics challenge takes aim at the armed groups that are hunting the black rhino and other animals out of existence.
As dusk descends on the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a family of black rhinos move quietly away from the water hole toward a resting place in the bush. They are among the last of their kind, the species having been hunted to near extinction, and this evening they are not alone. A group of men have entered Kruger from neighboring Mozambique. They come from a poor village, but they are carrying expensive weapons. Two men carry AK-47 assault rifles to shoot park rangers, one carries a high-caliber rifle to shoot rhinos, and one carries an ax to cut off the horn of the dying animal.
Traffickers in the criminal network paid a good price for the equipment and information, but it will be well worth the effort if they are able to kill a rhino. The horn is one of the most valuable materials on Earth, worth more than six times the value of gold on the streets of Vietnam and China, where it is believed to have great medicinal power. Criminal networks profit on that superstition, while environmentalists race to educate potential consumers about the fallacy of rhino horn medicine.
The horns are made from a material called keratin, which is about the same as human fingernails. In fact, simply eating your own nails would provide more keratin than a typical dose of rhino horn. Perhaps in a few generations, the demand for rhino horn will decrease, but unless the poaching ends, the rhinos will be gone in just a few years.
Stopping the poachers has been a losing proposition. In Kruger National Park, which is 7,580 square miles (a little smaller than the state of New Jersey), poachers have been relatively free to operate, despite the constant presence of rangers on foot and in ground vehicles. Poachers are supported by a modern and well-funded intelligence network that includes human sources, signals intercepts, and aerial surveillance.
There were more than a thousand rhinos poached throughout South Africa between January and December 2013—a dramatic rise over the past few years. Kruger National Park, the first reserve in South Africa, is the main battleground for the world’s rhino, where more than 600 were lost in 2013. Experts blame the dramatic increase in affluent populations in Asia, where rhino horn has become a fashionable commodity, selling for as much