Many wild elephants already wear GPS-equipped collars, which let wildlife officials track their whereabouts via radio signals. A hardware upgrade to those collars, however, could soon allow those officials to instantly know when poachers are shooting at the elephants, along with the location where it's occurring.

Known as WIPER, the technology was developed in a collaboration between Vanderbilt University and Colorado State University. It consists of a sensor which detects the acoustic shockwave that's produced when a high-powered weapon is fired. That shockwave occurs even if a silencer is being used.

When a shot is detected, an alert message is transmitted to wildlife officials, letting them know the GPS coordinates of the event. If possible, they can then send officers – along with drones, perhaps – to catch the poachers. Because each sensor can detect shots within a 50-m radius (164 ft), only a few devices are needed for each herd of elephants.

Led by Vanderbilt's Prof. Akos Ledeczi and Colorado State's Prof. George Wittemyer, the research team is planning on integrating the sensors into a third-party commercial GPS collar, then conducting field test in Northern Kenya.

Ultimately, the hope is to get WIPER-equipped collars onto 100 elephants annually, with each device having a battery life of about a year. The technology will be left open-source, so that other groups can integrate it into wildlife tracking devices of their own.

Source: Vanderbilt University