Conservationists in the United Kingdom have created a system that uses GPS tags, heart rate monitors, and embedded cameras to deter poachers from killing rhinos. Rhino poaching has risen sharply in recent years, particularly in South Africa, home to the largest population of rhinoceros in the world.
About 1,200 were killed in South Africa last year, according to government figures, equating to one animal every eight hours. Criminal syndicates target its horn, which commands high prices in Asia for its perceived health benefits.
Some areas have de-horned rhinos to stop poachers, but that requires constant animal monitoring and it hasn’t always proven effective. More recently, conservationists have begun using microchip implants to improve their chances of survival and other threatened populations.
RAPID (The Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device) was created by Protect, a British nonprofit focused on conservation and animal welfare. This monitoring device is already being tested in South Africa, where rhino populations are devastated from poachers.
The system, which was created by biologist Paul O’Donoghue, relies on heart rate monitors embedded under the rhino’s skin. If the rhino’s heart rate suddenly elevates or plummets, the device will send an alert to operators at a control center, who can then remotely activate a small camera implanted into its horn.
A leather collar around the rhino’s neck also tracks its GPS coordinates, allowing conservationists to quickly find anti-poaching forces if the live camera footage suggests that the rhino is in danger. The hope is that once the system is widely deployed, poachers will have to avoid any rhino with the distinctive GPS collar.
Steve Piper, a director at Protect, says that it acts as a deterrent so that poachers realize that any animal that has one of these collars or units attached to it are basically off the list. He also noted that there’s no point in attacking it, there’s no point in killing an animal, because you’re never going to get away with the valuable parts of the rhino.
The wireless systems have been upgraded to minimize battery drain, so new power supplies need only be placed a few times over the course of a single animal’s life. The team will equip more animals with these devices, as well as exploring ways to harvest energy from the rhino’s movement to remove the need for batteries. The embedded camera also poses no risk to its health, and can be implanted painlessly.
The team hopes that this system will let them gather data on animal behavior that could prove to be useful for academic purposes and also boosting tourism activities.