Summer 2018 marked the successful completion of the first of three test phases for a new anti-poaching technology elephants can wear on a tracking collar.Called WIPER by its development team, the device integrates with wildlife tracking collars and listens for the shockwave, or sonic boom, of a high-powered rifle, a common weapon in the industrial killing of elephants and other megafauna.WIPER’s design overcomes two key challenges for high-tech wildlife monitoring: power source (by creating a sleep mode) and cost (by putting designs in the public domain).WIPER provides real-time alerts and location data when a rifle is fired within 50 meters (50 yards) of the collared animal. WIPER may not protect the animal wearing it, but it helps security personnel close in on poachers, which may deter future poaching. Working under cover of night in parks as large as US states, poachers are skilled in avoiding detection. If they kill with silencers on their rifles, the animal’s death is not likely to be noticed right away, even if it is wearing a tracking collar. Monitoring an animal’s tracking data is sometimes more of a check-in than continuous surveillance. Before rangers reach the location and confirm an animal has been poached, the poachers have fled the area.This is the scenario that Vanderbilt University researcher Ákos Lédeczi and his team are trying to solve with an acoustic shockwave detection system.“[Rangers] turn on the GPS only a few times a day,” said Lédeczi. “And they turn on the radio maybe once a day and they send the data maybe once a day.”The system Lédeczi’s team is developing will always be “on,” so powering the device became the team’s biggest challenge.An elephant in Gabon’s Loango National Park wearing a collar fitted with a GPS tracking tag at the top. The WIPER sensor would be integrated into the unit. Image by Kurt Bundy, CC 3.0.“If you are using your phone, the microphone is constantly on and your battery lasts only a few hours,” Lédeczi said. “Now we have to listen to the sounds of nature continuously because we can’t miss the first shot – there may be only a single shot. This thing needs to last not for hours or days but one to two years on a single battery.”For the past 15 years, Lédeczi has been working on acoustic gunshot localization. With the research wing of the US Department of Defense, DARPA, his team developed anti-sniper technology that was not only able to report sniper location, but also to estimate and report the bullet trajectory, range, caliber, and weapon type with 95% accuracy or better. However, the battery of that system only lasted a day or less.Lédeczi predicts the power solution they came up with for WIPER – a “sleep mode”-based concept – will last at least a year in the field on a single charge.The path to new technologyLédeczi got the idea for WIPER when he learned that elephant and rhino conservationists were looking into law enforcement gunshot detection systems for anti-poaching solutions. Systems such as ShotSpotter place an array of sensors on stationary structures – buildings, phone poles, lamp posts – and locate gunfire by triangulation. There are no buildings or phone poles in the wild.“I came up with the idea, why don’t we put the sensors on the elephants and not the trees,” Lédeczi said. “And that way the sensor is always with the elephant.”One of the conservationists looking for anti-poaching technologies was George Wittemyer, a member of the IUCN African elephant specialist group, associate professor at Colorado State, and chair of the scientific board at Save the Elephants.Wittemyer had looked into the ShotSpotter system, but didn’t find it feasible for wildlife protection in large parks.“The problem is, their system is really expensive, has a lot of hardware,” Wittemyer said. “We’re in really remote areas. The logistics of it are quite difficult – to set up and service it and to make sure that it doesn’t get tampered with.”Wittemyer had even made several unsuccessful attempts to develop sensor technology for elephant tracking collars. So when he got the call from Lédeczi, offering to make such a sensor, he was elated.What about rhinos?Though WIPER stands for Wireless anti-Poaching for Elephants and Rhinos, the rhino anti-poaching device is a long way off.A grazing white rhino and calf at Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. The shape of a rhino’s skull hampers the use of standard tracking collars. Image by Sue Palminteri/Mongabay“Collars for rhino have been problematic due to the nature of rhino skulls,” said rhino conservationist Jeff Muntifering. Funded by the Minnesota Zoo, Muntifering works with Namibia’s Kunene desert rhino, in a consulting role for Save the Rhino and the Namibian government.“We have had some success using ankle bands with tracking devices here in Namibia, but I believe overall not successful enough to inspire further investment. I doubt those would be appropriate to attach an even larger device.”“As far as I know,” Lédeczi said, “the only sensor they put on rhino is they drill a hole in the horn, and they put it in the horn. But for us, that’s too small. At this point, we need a bigger sensor, unfortunately.”How WIPER worksWIPER detects the shockwave of a supersonic bullet traveling through space, which cannot be muffled.“Unlike existing military and law enforcement solutions that use arrays of microphones to accurately localize the shooter, WIPER employs a single microphone,” Lédeczi said. “The goal is to detect gunshots very reliably and provide an approximate location – in other words, that of the elephant being shot at.”An elephant wearing the first-phase WIPER sensor on a tracking collar at the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Park. Image courtesy of San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Park.The device can detect shots from up to 50 meters away – roughly half a football field.“Rangers can then be alerted and can cut off the escape route of the poachers to capture them,” Lédeczi said. “WIPER may not help the elephant wearing it, but it can prevent future poachings.”The WIPER system operates with both GSM (cell) and Iridium (satellite) communication systems. It can send an alert along with approximate coordinates (depending on the most recent GPS location taken) within a second. Within a couple of minutes, it updates the location with the current coordinates.“Unless,” Lédeczi said, “the poachers destroy the sensor in the meantime.”The team will test the prototypes with Kenya-based Savannah Tracking, but ultimately Lédeczi and his team plan to release the designs and software into the public domain. The intention is to keep the cost down – to under $100 dollars – so that any tracking collar company can offer the WIPER tech as an option on its tag.Testing timelineOver the summer of 2018, the WIPER prototype passed Phase I testing on an elephant at the San Diego Zoo. There were no gun shots, but the team got to see how the device handled a wide variety of environmental sounds, including a lot of metallic clanging and elephant vocalizations, which can be sudden and loud.Installing the sensor on an elephant at the San Diego Zoo. In the wild, this process would require tranquilizing the elephant before fitting the tracking collar. Image courtesy of Ákos Lédeczi/Vanderbilt University.“It was picking up sounds,” Lédeczi said. “Our initial shot detector algorithm didn’t quantify any of those sounds as a shot – so that’s a good start.”Phase II, testing the device on one or two elephants in the wild, is slated to begin in early October 2018 and will run about three months. Lédeczi hopes to retrieve the devices and have them back in the lab by the beginning of 2019, giving his team at Vanderbilt a full semester to sort through the retrieved data and make adjustments to the algorithms for accuracy. The main goal is to prevent false positives, which can make or break the tool’s success in the field.“The reality with these types of technology in the field,” Wittemyer said, “the more false positives you get, the less credence users put into the device.”The device has not been tested for ruggedness. It must stay on the elephant, take abuse, and still be able to detect sound, even through caked-on mud.“Elephants are hard on equipment,” Wittemyer said, “strong, but also elephants continue immersing themselves in water, taking mud baths and dust baths.”“So we are protecting [the sensor’s] core with gore-tex and steel mesh,” Lédeczi said. “These guys go through the thick brush and then the actual branches are hitting the sensor box – a loud sudden noise similar to a shockwave. Well, we’ll have to see whether that can survive in the wild.”The WIPER team in at the San Diego Zoo: (L-R) Gyorgy Kalmar, George Wittemyer, Ákos Lédeczi, with test subjects behind them. Image courtesy of Ákos Lédeczi/Vanderbilt University.The device’s ruggedness will have a year in the field to prove itself. The yearlong trial of Phase III is set to begin in early summer of 2019, so it will be at least 2020 before the product rolls out.WIPER deployed“Sadly, humans are incredibly innovative at killing things,” Whittemyer said. He acknowledges the variety of poaching weapons elephants are up against, such as poison salt and harpoon traps.“This system is not going to protect them from that,” he said. “But especially where there’s a lot of large-scale industrial poaching going on, that’s being done with assault rifles. And that’s where this system will be useful.”There are a lot of ifs involved, but so far, WIPER is on track to help fight elephant poaching soon.“I hope in three years from now,” Wittemyer said, “it’s like this is on every collar of every large mammal.” Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored Anti-poaching, Elephants, GPS tracking, Poaching, real-time monitoring, Rhinos, Sensors, Technology, Tracking, Wildtech Article published by Sue Palminteri FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the editor of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.