Protecting The Wildlife In Africa With 21st-Century Technology

Gun shots rang out around 6pm in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Knowing it came from poachers, the park rangers tried to follow the sound, but in an area about 19,485 square kilometers (7,523 sq. mi) and extends 360 kilometers (220 mi) from north to south and 65 kilometers (40 mi) from east to west, tracking was difficult. The Rangers thought they had located the sound, but after losing track, the rangers called on Air Shepherd to launch drones to try and spot the poachers.

Air Shepherd was created out of a partnership with UAV&Drone Solutions and the Lindbergh Foundation.

"Using our drone and night vision technology, we found them and gave the rangers the GPS locations and bearing where they were running," said Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg, director of UAV&Drone

Solutions

The poachers were not caught, but did run away, which is at least one successful piece of saving the elephants and rhinos from extinction, which so far has been a losing battle.

However, continuing to fight the ongoing battle of saving the animals, Air Shepherd has partnered with African Parks in Malawi and the Zimbabwe government in Zimbabwe. South Africa, and the Minister of Transport, Ms. Dipuo Peters, adopted new rules for the regulation of the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems or drones to deter poaching of African elephants and rhinoceros.

World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) is funding anti-poaching operations in Malawi and Zimbabwe with a grant from Google.org to research, develop, and implement a suite of technologies to stop wildlife crime.

Utilizing state-of-the-art technology to save 10 million-year-old creature

The drones are "night vision" capable enabling them to see poachers in the dark. Drone operators scan images from the drones and immediately alert park rangers of poachers for a successful intercept. Air Shepherd deploys about 25 drones to fight the threat of poaching, using its highly sophisticated technology that has been leveraged to fight the good fight.

They are battery operated and can fly for about five hours. They are outfitted with sensors to record the weather and terrain and send the information back to the command center to evaluate the information.

The control systems are designed for seeking out poachers and are tailored for that mission. Each drone is outfitted with a video feed and the ability to communicate with rangers on the ground. Using a sensing device and thermal imaging allows operations at night, makes it one of the most successful programs to combat poaching so far. The drone pilots are trained to work day or night. Once a site has been identified, a mobile command center is set up to control the drone and record information coming back.

Inside job

A big part of the problem, unfortunately, is rooted within local government that instead of protecting the wildlife, the threat is within government ranks itself. Just this past July 2016, as reported in Africa Geographic, a Kruger National Park ranger and a veterinary technician with the Government Department of Agriculture and Forestry, within the Animal Health Directorate, were arrested in Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, South Africa for rhino poaching related offenses.

This is not an isolated incident, as it is known worldwide that many poachers are inside government and paid by private and "big-money enterprises" to kill rhinos for their horns and elephants for their tusks.

Trying to fight poachers as well as government officials who are supposed to protect the wildlife, make the fight that more difficult. However, if by example, all poachers can be thwarted with state-of-the-art technology such as drones, it matters not who is out to destroy the wildlife of Africa.

"Rangers own the daylight. But by night, it's a different story," said Werdmuller Von Elgg. Most of the poaching of big animals is a nighttime activity and in particular full moons. Poachers will track their prey and then attack when it is dark.

The farmers fight

Not only poachers can be a danger to the elephant populations in India and Africa. Drone technology has contributed to reducing Human Elephant Conflict (HEN.) Farming is an economic issue for farmers trying to protect their crops. Elephants looking for fresh fruit, especially in mango season, will stomp through farms, knocking down fences especially throughout Malawi and Zimbabwe. To deter the elephants from marching through a farmer's fence, Air Shepherd has deployed smaller drones that sound like bees, which the elephants don't like.

It's a harmonious solution for the farmer and the elephant, thereby avoiding the HEN.

Ultimate "Wake-up" call

We have been hearing about animal extinction for years, but it is dangerously close today.

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), in Botswana, the UN body dedicated to fighting the global poaching crisis, revealed that poaching in Botswana has not changed. Cites estimated that in 2013 and 2014, more than 20,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory tusks.

The ghastly media images of the bloody corpses of rhinoceros left behind have outraged the international conservation community. Just in South Africa, about 6,000 rhinoceros have been killed in the past decade. Approximately 1,300 were killed in 2015, but it does not appear anything has been done to stem the numbers killed.

Poaching of elephants and rhinoceros has caught up with the reality of extinction within 10 years.