New 24/7 monitoring turns rhinos into cyborgs aimed at terminating poachers.

Protect RAPID anti-poaching project has an innovation solution to the pressing problem of poachers who target rhinos for their horns.

A 24/7 real-time monitoring device for animals threatened by poaching, including rhino, tiger and elephant, has been invented by the British team behind Protect RAPID.

Amidst figures from Africa and Asia showing dramatic crashes in populations of rhino and elephant due to poaching, a British led team has developed a new anti-poaching device, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, that could dramatically reduce poaching over the next decade.

Rhino poaching has increased some 9,300 percent since 2007 in South Africa alone, where the vast landscapes mean that even highly capable anti-poaching forces are unaware of poaching events until it is far too late, meaning that arrest and conviction rates are low, and there is little deterrent to poachers. 11760331_745712462207547_6600208933252487290_n

The Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device) aims to solve the problem by combining a GPS satellite collar with a heart rate monitor and video camera. Broadcasting 24/7 real time information to a control centre, anti-poaching teams can be alerted and dispatched to poaching events within seconds of them taking place.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, who has worked with endangered black rhino populations for more than 15 years explains:

“Currently a rhino is butchered every six hours in Africa, the issues are many, but there’s far too much money at stake to believe that legislation alone can make the difference, we had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field; the killing has to be stopped.

“With this device, the heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing the location within a few metres so that rangers can be on the scene via helicopter or truck within minutes, leaving poachers no time to harvest the valuable parts of an animal or make good an escape. You can’t outrun a helicopter, the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.

The device already has the backing of leading rhino veterinarians and conservationists in South Africa, including Dean Peinke, Specialist Mammal Ecologist for the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, who said:

“We simply don’t know where or when poachers might strike, to effectively patrol these vast landscapes requires an army and still poachers could find a way through; they are well organised and equipped, and they will find gaps in almost any defence because the rewards are so great.

“These devices tip the balance strongly in our favour, if we can identify poaching events as they happen we can respond quickly and effectively to apprehend the poachers; it’s very exciting to be able to work with Protect on the first field trials of the Protect RAPID with our own Southern black rhino population.

Humane Society International, which is working with the government of Viet Nam on an effective education and outreach programme to reduce demand for rhino horn, has been fast to support development of the device. Claire Bass, executive director of HSI UK, comments:

“Reducing market demand is critical to safeguard wildlife long term, but it needs to be coupled with urgent, effective action to stop the current poaching crisis. The Protect RAPID could be a game changer in the increasingly desperate fight against poaching, and the technology has the potential to be applied to other critically endangered species including tigers and elephants. We are excited to have this opportunity to fund the project and hope other backers will join us to get the technology into the field as quickly as possible.

The project even has the support of some high-profile celebrities such as comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, an outspoken opponent of poaching, also expressed his excitement and support:

“I am thrilled to support the work of Protect. Poachers know full well they can kill rhinos and other animals with almost no chance of being caught, sometimes they even cut off the animals horn and half its face whilst it is still alive, it’s barbaric. The killing won’t stop unless we increase those chances and the Protect RAPID does just that. We finally have the technology to catch these people red handed, and if they know that then they’ll think twice before killing another beautiful rhino. Finally we might have a fighting chance of saving this astonishing species from extinction, I strongly urge everyone to support this project.

The Protect RAPID people also have plans to develop similar projects to aid in sea turtle conservation in the Caribbean later this year, wildcat conservation in the UK in 2016 and ecosystem protection in Sumatra next year.

Photo credit: Protect Facebook

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