Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm
1410 Physics Lecture Hall

Saving Rhinos with Math, Drones and Satellites

A daring experiment to use drone aircraft and intelligence tools against rhinoceros poachers in South Africa will be previewed in a free public talk on campus April 11, at 3 pm in 1410 Physics Lecture Hall.

Tom Snitch, Ph.D., an intelligence consultant and remote sensing expert based in Bethesda, MD, is executive officer of the United Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring Systems. Snitch has organized a May 25 field test of unmanned aerial vehicles for anti-poaching surveillance on a private game reserve near South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the center of a deadly epidemic of rhino killings.

It will be the first time unmanned aircraft are combined with satellite imagery and sophisticated mathematical modeling to catch rhino poachers in the act. The goal is to quickly mobilize game wardens to stop the poachers, who are killing one black rhino every 11 hours, according to the South African government.     

The killing of rhinos for their horns, prized in traditional Asian medicine, has accelerated dramatically. Conservationists fear the endangered animals could soon go extinct. A South African crackdown on poachers has turned bloody. On March 27, rangers killed three suspected rhino poachers in a firefight. On March 30, five South African soldiers died in a helicopter crash while on anti-poaching patrol.

Mathematicians, physicists, and artificial intelligence experts from the College are sharing ideas with the anti-poaching team. Some of the techniques to be tested were developed at CMNS. Computer Science Professor V.S. Subrahmanian used a similar algorithm to find Iraqi insurgents’ caches of bomb-making materials. Faculty members are working on a range of peacetime uses for unmanned aircraft, from rescuing lost hikers to controlling the spread of crop diseases.

Snitch, a former senior staff director of the National Academy of Sciences and senior advisor at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, specializes in applying technology to problems in Asia and Africa. He is a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), and chairman of the Board of Visitors of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (CMNS).

“Entrepreneurial Approaches to Protecting Highly Endangered Wildlife: Saving Rhinos with Math, Drones and Satellites,” is free and open to the public, April 11 from 3 to 4 pm at 1410 Physics Lecture Hall on the College Park Campus. Snitch’s talk is part of a month-long series of campus events on entrepreneurship.

Media contact: Heather Dewar,, 301-405-9267

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Kelly Terrill, 301.405.0486

Reception immediately following in G. Forrest Woods Atrium, Chemistry Building