At the end of the 20th century, the global population of rhinos stood at around 500,000. Absurd amounts of poaching have caused that number to drop down to 28,000, spurring conservationists to take more dramatic steps for protecting these precious animals.
In a sprawling wildlife preserve in Zimbabwe larger than Grand Canyon National Park, rangers have embedded sensors into the horns of some of the rhinos that roam the park. Three times a day, the trackers send the animals’ GPS locations to solar-powered base stations, which then send the data to rangers through a mobile app. The system can alert rangers when the animals stray into areas near the borders of the park, where they might be more vulnerable to poaching. It also helps rangers and veterinarians easily find the rhinos on regular patrols.
Older methods of tracking have challenges–traditional radio collars require someone to physically use an antenna and listen for beeps, and the collars themselves (or ankle bracelets) can be problematic for rhinos to wear. Drones can be used to follow wildlife but are expensive, require trained staff to fly, and are limited in how long they can stay in the air. Although the new trackers are not exactly easy to implant, they are extremely effective as they can continuously work for three years and automatically send signals without any extra work. The device also costs only about $50, a small enough price that parks that haven’t been able to track animals in the past may be able to now. As the world advances technologically-speaking, it’s encouraging to see that new technologies are being used to benefit endangered wildlife.