A drone designed by students in Catalonia could provide the solution for tackling illegal poaching of rhinos in South Africa and help prevent the animals becoming extinct by 2026.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, which will incorporate thermal cameras, will be able to detect for park rangers via GPS the location of animals or any suspicious targets in the Kruger National Park.

In 2014 more than 1,200 rhinos were killed in South Africa, making it the worst year for poaching in history. This equates to more than three rhinos dying each day.

Experts are predicting if this rate of killing continues, rhinos will be poached to extinction by 2026.

Rhinos are being killed for their horns, which in Asian culture is a traditional medicine deemed to have healing and spiritual benefits despite no scientific evidence to prove this.

The drone, dubbed Ranger Drone, has been designed by four students, Aleix Ripoll, Aleix Figueres, Hugo Bertiche and Arnau Garcia, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). It has already been tested for its effectiveness at a sheep farm in the north-eastern Spanish city of Huesca and with rhinos and elephants at Barcelona Zoo.

The group is now one of seven finalists competing in the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge to find a solution to prevent the killing of rhinos.

They will be presenting their proposal, which has received the backing of UAV Challenge WildLife Conservation and Technological Centre for Telecommunications of Catalonia, in South Africa in March.

The aerospace students have also been in touch with national parks in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia who also need effective measures to protect their animals.