Dr Paul O'Donoghue, Inventor, Protect RAPID and Chief Scientific Advisor, Protect with a sedated rhino. Humane Society International photo and copyright

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Inventor, Protect RAPID and Chief Scientific Advisor, Protect with a sedated rhino. Humane Society International photo and copyright

According to an HSI press release  {LONDON 20 July 2015) Humane Society International and Protect have today launched the final stage of a new project to save rhinos from extinction – a British GPS/heart-rate device that could dramatically reduce illegal poaching of rhino and other endangered species through real time telemetry. 

The new RAPID device has been developed by Dr Paul O’Donoghue with initial funding by global animal protection charity Humane Society International, and could vastly increase the chances of poachers being caught on the scene by anti-poaching forces who currently struggle to detect a rhino kill in real time.

HSI’s celebrity supporter Ricky Gervais, who has been very vocal in condemnation of rhino poaching, has been happy to give RAPID his support too.

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

Black Rhino by Andy Luck

Rhino poaching has increased some 9,300 per cent 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. Black Rhino by Andy Luck

What is RAPID?
The Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device) is a 24/7 real-time monitoring device for animals threatened by poaching, including rhino, tiger and elephant, has been invented by a British scientist. Welcomed by experts as a ground-breaking new technology and potential lifeline for poached species, a new conservation organisation, Protect, is taking forward development with support from Humane Society International.

How does RAPID counter poaching?
aims to help monitor vulnerable rhinos 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.

British researcher Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who has worked with endangered black rhino populations for more than 15 years and developed the Protect RAPID 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.

Rhino cam in field test  - an integral part of RAPID protection for endangered rhinos. Photo and copyright Humane Society International.

Rhino cam in field test – an integral part of RAPID protection for endangered rhinos. Photo and copyright Humane Society International.

“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 Dr O’Donoghue and 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.”
Proof of concept research completed
Steve Piper, a director of Protect, elaborates; “Proof of concept research has already been completed and we’re ready to take the device into the field, we expect to have the first rhino prototypes out within months and are just beginning development on versions for tigers and elephants. We hope to have a fully functional control centre established early next year. The figures make it painfully clear; there is no time to waste, the tide has to be turned and the Protect RAPID can do it; the only thing heading for extinction over the next decade is poaching itself.”
Celebrity Support From Ricky Gervais
Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, an outspoken opponent of poaching, also expressed his excitement and support, “I am thrilled to support the work of Dr O’Donoghue and 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 animal’s horn and half its face whilst it is still alive, it’s barbaric. The killing won’t stop unless we increase those chances of capture, 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.”

Humane Society International has donated funds towards RAPID to help get it up and running in the field, but we need more funders to come forward to help meet the full cost – donate to save the rhinos here.

More info can be found at:
Humane Society International  www.hsi.org/rhinos
(Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organizations. For more than 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide)

Protect www.weareprotect.org