Saving Rhinos from Extinction in an Intelligent Way

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by: Christopher Tang

There are five species of Rhinos (while, black, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan). While the last two Asian species are critically endangered, the other three are endangered because they are hunted by poachers for their horns some Asians believe that Rhino horns can be used to treat certain ailments.

Over a decade from 2007 to 2017, over 7,245 African Rhinos have been lost to poaching. By 2017, there are only 100 Sumatran Rhinos and 60 Javan Rhinos left in Asia, and approximately 28,000 Rhinos of the other three species left in Africa. Rhinos will be extinct without human intervention. First, one can reduce the demand of Rhino horns by changing the beliefs of certain Asians and improving law enforcement about the trade of Rhino horns. However, this will take time, and time is running out. Second, one can reduce the poaching of Rhinos in South Africa. Over the last decade, many organizations such as WWF and Save the Rhino collect donations and contributed funds to recruit more rangers to safe guard these Rhinos. There is a decline in the number of Rhinos poached in South Africa, but it is very costly and inefficient to rely on these ranchers without additional help. Despite intensive efforts to protect Rhinos using armed rangers, drones, and trained tracker dogs, more than 1000 Rhinos are being poached in each year.

Help is on its way. First, through direct observations, scientists from IBM learned that Zebras normally move along-side Rhinos. When facing a predator (e.g., a lion), a herd of zebra will scatter. However, when encountering a poacher with a gun, these animals will move in opposite direction. Anticipating this behavior, these scientists put radio collars on zebras so that they can monitor the location and movement of these zebras. This way, they can alert the rangers when the zebras move in opposite direction.

Second, using historical data on poaching incidents, computer scientists are using machine learning to predict when and where Rhinos were likely to be poached. This way, rangers and drones can patrol these target areas to reduce the number of incidents.

These two approaches are encouraging first step, but much more need to be done to save these Rhinos from extinction.

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