Poaching has long contributed to the dwindling populations of endangered species worldwide.

Now, conservationists in Nepal are combating the illegal trade by using unmanned drone aircraft in an effort to protect the country's endangered tigers and rhinos from poachers, Agence France-Presse reports.

According to a statement from World Wildlife Fund Nepal, the nonprofit tested two unmanned drones earlier this month in Nepal's Chitwan National Park:

The remote-controlled Conservation Drone is equipped with cameras and GPS to help capture images and video from hard-to-reach areas in the landscape thereby serving as a remarkable conservation tool. It is two meters in width and flies at a maximum elevation of 200 meters. It can cover a distance of up to 25 kilometers within a duration of 45 minutes.

"We hope these drones will be useful in detecting poachers as they enter the parks," Dr Serge Wich, a biologist with the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zurich and one of the innovators behind the project, told the BBC.

"If they see poachers in the area, they can send out a team to catch them."

Nepal's move toward the use of remote operated aircraft reveals how conservationists are stepping up their efforts to fight the increasingly sophisticated methods of poachers pursuing endangered species.

According to Wildlife Research Conservationists, poachers are moving away from tracking animals on foot with automatic weapons and snares and instead opting for helicopters, GPS and tranquilizers.

Nepal isn't the only country to change tactics in the fight against poachers. Last month, India introduced new legislation that makes it no longer a crime for forest guards to injure or kill suspected poachers.

The estimated total world population of Indian rhinos in May 2007 was at 2,575 individuals, with a total of 378 in Nepal and 2,200 in India.

Listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the animal is thought to be in demand for its horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

As for the Bengal tiger, only 155 live in Nepal. Like the Indian rhino, it's also classified as an endangered species.

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