Low-power tracking chips embedded into the horns of near-extinct black rhinos

The horns of critically endangered black rhinos have been implanted with sensors so that park rangers can track their routines and whereabouts.

The Internet of Life and the ShadowView Foundation used LoRaWANTM-equipped sensors, which provide long-distance connectivity up to 30km away.

The operation took place in Tanzania and is part of a ‘Smart Parks’ initiative that has been rolled out to several National Parks throughout Africa.

Black rhinos are currently on the verge of extinction and some subspecies have already been totally wiped out.

The rhino trackers show the location of the animals within the sanctuary, providing the park’s security personnel with better intelligence and helping to combat the actions of illegal poachers.

The LoRaWAN chips, which are designed to be cost-effective and energy-efficient, are small sensors that have been directly implanted in the horns of the rhinos.

They are designed to perform in a similar fashion to GPS chips but are far more energy efficient, which means the rhinos can be left largely undisturbed for long periods of time.

The geolocation systems’ longer lifecycle allows Smart Parks trackers to update the rhinos’ location a couple of times per hour instead of the once or twice a day allowed by other systems.

The increase of detailed data is transmitted from the sensors within the network to an observation room where the tracked items appear on a digital map.

“The brutal onslaught of poaching of rhino populations across Africa has resulted in fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remaining in the wild,” explained project leader Tim van Dam, “1,000 of which are the Eastern black rhino subspecies. Smart Parks is a new tool in the battle against poaching.”

As a next step, ShadowView and The Internet of Life acquired the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to increase network coverage of the protected area, so that all black rhinos in the area can be protected with Smart Parks.

Other Smart Park applications used by the park management are the monitoring of gate open/closures through solar-powered LoRaWANTM-based sensors installed on the gates and solar-powered trackers installed on vehicles to track the whereabouts of personnel and tourists in high-risk areas.

New applications, like improved fence monitoring, connected camera-traps and tracking of equipment, like firearms, will also be launched in the near future.

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