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Science

Step-by-Step: Disney Rhino Gets Fitted with Fitness Tracker

ORLANDO, Fla. — Someone new is joining the ranks of fitness enthusiasts who monitor the number of steps they take each day with Fitbits and other fitness tracking devices. Only Helen isn’t human: She’s a 30-year-old white rhino at Walt Disney World.

Helen went out onto the savanna at the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Animal Kingdom on Monday wearing a fitness device all-day.

The purpose is to gather data on the number of steps she takes each day, whether she is walking, running or napping, and which part of the man-made savanna she favors the most. The device, about a foot (0.3 meters) in diameter, has an accelerometer and a GPS tracker and it’s fitted around her ankle.

The data it produces will be shared with more than two dozen other institutions participating in a large research project studying the best ways to care for rhinos at facilities, said Scott Terrell, a veterinarian who is director of Animal & Science Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

“By doing this research and using this technology, we can really focus in on the physical fitness of the rhinos as a component of their health and well being,” Terrell said.

The tracker consists of a belt with a small pouch with electronics attached to it. Her caretakers had been trying to get Helen accustomed to the device by having her wear it for a limited amount of time and then extending that time.

If Helen continues to appear comfortable wearing the device, which will be taken off at night, eventually two-thirds of the nine white rhinos at Animal Kingdom will be wearing the devices out on the savanna.

Around 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild, primarily at national parks and reserves. Three species — black, Javan, and Sumatran — are critically endangered due to poaching, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

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