Elephant Tracking Collars Will Send Alerts if Shots Are Fired

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
CC BY 2.0. flickrfavorites

There have been a host of technologies developed to help cut down on elephant poaching from GPS collars to drone surveillance that a help monitor herds and look out for poachers but as of yet there hadn't been any way to know precisely when poaching is taking place so that authorities could act.

Previous technologies have been good at keeping an eye out for poachers or monitoring the behavior of herds to prevent conflict between elephants and farmers, but now a new smart collar from Vanderbilt University will actually sound the alarm if gunshots are fired.

The tracking collar is embedded with a ballistic sensor that can detect the shockwaves of a gunshot and then send an alert to authorities with the GPS coordinates of the event. Having a real-time notification like that gives authorities the chance to catch poachers in the act and even possibly prevent the removal of tusks.

As authorities and non-profit organizations have gotten better at surveillance, poachers have gotten smarter as well. Poachers work under the cover of darkness and often use sound-muffling devices to cover up the sounds of their gunshots, but they can't hide the shockwaves of the blast. The technology, called WIPER, takes advantage of this tell-tale sign that can't be hidden.

The team is working with the organization Save the Elephants, which has collared 1,000 elephants in Kenya, and will provide them with its ballistic shockwave sensors.

"Our aim is to make WIPER open-source, freely available to all collar manufacturers, so that it can become a common feature in all wildlife tracking devices,” said Professor of Computer Engineering Akos Ledeczi.

The WIPER technology is sensitive enough to cover a 50-meter radius so organizations would only need to place it in the collars of a few elephants per herd. With a grant from Vodafone, the team will start developing prototypes and conducting testing in Northern Kenya. The goal is to develop a collar that will have enough battery power to last 12 months at a time and to see 100 elephants collared per year.