[Science] Drones could be used to herd rhinos away from poaching hotspots – AI

0
72
[Science] Drones could be used to herd rhinos away from poaching hotspots – AI


Rhinos flee the droneSamuel Penny By Ruby Prosser ScullyDrones and sirens could help to combat the poaching of southern white rhinos. The technology can deter the animals from entering areas of national parks and reserves where the poaching risk is high. Thanks to conservation efforts, the number of southern white rhinos has increased dramatically since the early 1900s and now sits at around 20,000 individuals. Unfortunately, this has been followed by an uptick in poaching, and more than 1000 African rhinos were killed by poachers each year between 2013 and 2017. Efforts to combat poaching have traditionally relied on expensive options such as vehicle and foot patrols, which put a financial strain on the reserves and parks that are home to rhinos. Advertisement To explore cheaper alternatives, Samuel Penny and his colleagues at the University of Brighton, UK, tested whether sounds, smells or drones could be used to deter rhinos from poaching hotspots. Read more: Drones are causing airport chaos – why can’t we stop them? They exposed a group of dehorned southern white rhinos living in a private reserve in South Africa to each stimulus four times and recorded what happened in the minute afterwards. Drones and harsh siren sounds were the most effective tools for getting rhinos to leave the area, with mothers and their calves fleeing from drones that were as high as 100 metres above the ground. Penny says drones could be used to deter rhinos from poaching hotspots such as around water holes or near buildings and roads during nights with a full moon. Because sirens need a speaker system, they may be limited to use in patrol vehicles that drive around the perimeter of the reserve or park. Precise rhino control “We found the drones to be a much more effective tool at manipulating rhino movement than the siren, mainly due to their long transmission range and capability of pursuing rhinos over long distances,” says Penny. “The drone’s manoeuvrability also allows for more precise control of rhino movement as it can be flown into positions in response to changes in rhino direction. In essence it can be used to herd them,” he says. Surprisingly, the smell of chili was a useless deterrent – despite being effective in elephants, monkeys and bears. “We actually recorded rhinos chewing on the chili-oil infused ropes on several occasions,” says Penny. “So in this case, chili acted more as an attractant than a deterrent.” Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1135 More on these topics: conservation drones