Rarest rhino species may be saved by crowdfunded drones

Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy is trying two new technologies to save what are possibly the last four northern white rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) from poachers, who sell horns for Middle Eastern daggers or Chinese medicine. These four only survived Africa’s large scale rhino slaughter because they were sheltered in a Czech zoo until 2009. Now Ol Pejeta is using crowd-funding to try to buy a drone to patrol the 90,000 acre reserve.

You’ll definitely be hearing more about both crowdfunding and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs, better known as drones) to help wildlife.

Crowdfunding–where somebody asks the public to fund a project that isn’t likely to get big money elsewhere–is better known for art and design projects that use kickstarter. But Kickstarter has all kinds of rules: the project has to be art and can’t be for a charity. So Ol  Pejeta went to another  crowd-funding site Indegogo. Ol Pejeta has raised about $27,000 (as of Jan. 7) out of $35,000. It’s like the Obama campaign strategy: the donations are small, but there are a lot of them.

They want to buy a custom drone, which will pick up the rhinos’ GPS locations via RFD chips and livestream the video, allowing the 120 local armed guards to patrol the 140 square miles much more efficiently.

Everyone is a little confused about how many northern white rhinos survive in the wild, largely because of the horrific epidemic of poaching Africa has seen. Since 2006, no one has seen the herd (or crash) of rhino that used to wallow in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Southern Sudan might have some,  but biologists are too scared to check.

Biologists are also arguing over whether they are really all that different from the southern version. It’s the lumpers v. splitters argument: should slightly different, geographically separated, animals be lumped together or split into separate species. In 2010 Australian archeologist Colin Groves argued they are totally different species because of their genes, tooth size and angle and skull growth.

But not everybody is so sure. The IUCN Red List says it is undecided on whether to separate the northern white or lump it with the southern and expects more research to rebut Groves.

Either way, these rhinos aren’t from Kenya, which hasn’t had rhinos in the last 200 years, the IUCN says. Rhino specialists just picked Ol Pejeta Conservancy as the rhino’s last, best chance. The rhinos wouldn’t have survived if they weren’t in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic.

If these rhinos aren’t the most rare kind of rhino, then they are the least rare. About 20,000 southern white rhinos lived in 2010, according to Some rhino specialists think it’s just too late for the northern white rhinos anyway, since the four known survivors would have to interbreed  too much to recreate a stable population. Aside from the white rhinos, there are four species of rhino left–three (Sumatran, Black, Javan) are critically endangered and one (Indian) is vulnerable.

So these four individuals at Ol Pejeta are either the rarest of all rhino species–or just a handful of the most populous rhino species left (which itself was saved from extinction in the last century).


Help out Ol Pejeta on Indegogo

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