CHALLENGE UPDATE: Over 80 teams from 20 countries and 6 continents have signed up to compete.
Blogger’s note: I cropped and edited these pictures. They appear as intended.
SKUKUZA, SOUTH AFRICA — We’re at the operations center waiting for a ride to camp. A gray-haired gentleman sporting a goatee and glasses approaches us.
“Are you busy? We just received word that a fresh rhino carcass was found and we’re heading there now,” he said.
It is extremely rare, he went on to say, that a fresh carcass is discovered. Usually the carcasses are found after several days in the sun. And after they’ve been scavenged.
Shortly after we arrive on the scene, the circumstances of the Rhino’s death emerge. A poacher shot and wounded the Rhino and officials had no choice but to put it down. Its horn is still intact — a fact that punctuates the senselessness of the killing. No one gains. Everyone loses.
SANParks veterinarians are left with the grim task of cutting away its skin, muscle, fat, and bone. Forensic evidence, which includes the bullet lodged in its shoulder, needs to be located and retrieved to support a criminal case against the poachers—if ever they are found.
As the autopsy progresses, gas-filled pockets in its exposed bowels are pierced, releasing a foul, putrid stench. We are in the open air, and yet the smell hangs, highly concentrated, for a long while. It is nauseating enough that it makes me retch. I’m glad it did. Up until now it was just meat and bone. It reminded me it roamed and ate grass and processed it into waste. It had lived.
The carcass lay perpendicular to the flatbed trailer they brought it in on. The configuration makes it difficult to see its face straight on so I make my way to the other side of the truck and squat down to peer underneath and through to the other side. Once there, the trailer bed frames the view. The thought that hits me now is poignant. The Rhino is a patient on a gurney. The doctors are busy operating. The knowledge that this patient is never going to wake up suddenly makes its mortality real.
Simply reporting rhino kills as a number trivializes the reality. That’s why this post had to happen. Now when I report that 524 rhino were killed this year. It means something. This is what the 80 teams—through their creativity and technical ability—have pledged to stop.
- Makers, Drones, and the Future of South Africa’s Imperiled Rhinos (makezine.com)
- UAVs Demonstrated for South African National Parks Officials (makezine.com)
- Conversations with a SANDF Colonel (makezine.com)
- South African National Defense Forces fly UAVs at Mozambique Border (makezine.com)