Rhinos, tigers may be protected by heartbeat tracking device (South Africa)


Renee Bonorchis, Bloomberg

Date Published

Rhinos, tigers and elephants could be saved from poachers by a collar that monitors their heart beats, combined with a global-tracking device and a video camera.

“The heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing the location within a few meters,” Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific adviser for British conservation company Protect, who designed the device, said in a statement. “Rangers can be on the scene via helicopter or truck within minutes.” Poachers won’t have time to harvest parts of the animals or make a successful escape if the device is used, he said.

A record 1,215 rhinos were killed illegally in South Africa last year, with the majority hunted in Kruger National Park, while Tanzania’s elephant population has declined 60 per cent since 2010 due to increased levels of poaching. Wild tiger populations in countries like Vietnam and India are dwindling. Protect is ready to start field trials of the invention — called a Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device — in some of the affected areas, it said.

“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,” Mr Ricky Gervais, British comedian, actor and anti-poaching activist, said in the statement. “Finally we might have a fighting chance of saving this astonishing species from extinction.”

South Africa is home to most of the world’s remaining white rhinos and poaching is on the increase. Demand for rhino horns has climbed in Asian nations, including China and Vietnam, because of a belief they can cure various ailments including cancer.

“To effectively patrol these vast landscapes requires an army and still poachers could find a way through,” Dr Dean Peinke, specialist mammal ecologist for the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency in South Africa, said in the statement. “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.”