Turning Rhinos into Hot Spots to Combat Poaching

By Joyce Deuley & Nicole Garbarino

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been transforming all markets across the stack, including improved conservation efforts for honeybees (read our full blog here), and now it’s transforming efforts to save African rhinos. For years, we have heard of poachers decimating species populations for their skins, horns and hands, as well as other more exotic body parts—and despite numerous campaigns and donations, wildlife rangers and preservationists arrive too late. But, through the IoT, the Protect organization is hoping to change that: through its Project RAPID, Protect is equipping South African rhinos with tracking and heart monitors to warn rangers when poachers are near.

Project RAPID (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligent Device) provides ‘round the clock monitoring of African rhinos through GPS location, heart rate monitors and in-horn cameras—that’s right—salvation by “rhinoplasty” (Fortune). This is accomplished by inserting a camera into the rhino’s second horn, as well as a heart monitor and GPS tracker, which allows those who are monitoring the rhinos to see when the animal is under stress, and then look at the camera to know whether or not it is because of poaching. If it is, they can pinpoint the location in minutes using the GPS tracker, decreasing the chance for poachers to escape and speeding the time for emergency responders to get to a potentially wounded rhino.

Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing from here—there are some logistical problems to be concerned about, such as battery life and connectivity range, as well as lag-time between when an event may occur and when the information can be transmitted to the rangers. However, with new connectivity technologies being implemented in increasingly more remote areas, and with more ruggedized, environment-resilient batteries and equipment becoming more common, much of these challenges will become a thing of the past. As a result, continuous monitoring of endangered animals like the South African rhino, coupled with advanced sensor technologies, conservationists and wildlife advocates will be better able to respond to rhinos in distress—saving lives and catching poachers red handed.

In addition to rhino monitoring, Protect is rolling out three other projects in 2015 and 2016, which are here to protect other species as well. They are creating a conservation project in the Caribbean for sea turtles, a wildcat conservation in the U.K. and an ecosystem protection project in Sumatra. The Internet of Things is helping us eliminate poaching, and better protect species from becoming extinct. One down side to the latest monitoring techniques is that they are still quite expensive. If researchers want the video to stream quickly so that they know whether an animal is being threatened right away, they need the fastest network and devices. Protect is asking for donations of any size on its website to help mitigate these costs.

Over time, tracking and monitoring technologies will become more readily available, as well as cost effective, but will it be too late? Until then, conservation efforts like Project Rapid may move at a slower pace than what is needed to see dramatic results. However, with the rapid growth of the IoT, we may see a solution to these hurdles faster than expected, allowing Project RAPID to decrease the number of rhinos poached, which as we all know, one is better than none.