Drones in Sustainability Part 1/2 – A Poacher’s Nightmare

Even though no mainstream commercial application is available yet to the public, recent announcements indicate that drones are set to become part our lives. Easy to operate and very manoeuvrable, they are often fitted with cameras and can even transport light payloads such as parcels and all kinds of sensors. This versatility, added to their relatively low price, makes drones a very attractive solution for a number of applications.

Fortunately it is not only big tech companies that are researching the potential of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, as they are called in the industry) and as legislators adapt legal frameworks to allow for commercial applications, some sustainability actors are already employing drones to tackle a variety of challenges. From tracking animals, to monitoring forest coverage, to delivering vaccines – drones have many roles to play to protect our ecosystem. In this first article in our series on the use of drones for sustainability, we take a look at how they help fight poaching.

A growing demand vs limited resources

Poaching activities are still on the rise globally. The ever-growing demand from Chinese and South East Asian markets has been pushing the prices of tusk and rhino horn to new highs. With prices now higher than gold, the poaching of elephants and rhinos has increased 9000% since 2007.

For years, African governments, foundations and other groups have been looking at ways to stop this bloodbath with solutions ranging from sawing off tusks and horns preventively, to tracking and surveilling animals with GPS devices or sending rangers and even the military to patrol immense areas to intercept poachers. Each of these solutions has positive effects on poaching, however they are expensive, labour-intensive or require the mobilization of large teams. The resulting lack of action means that the risk of being caught is too low to deter poachers attracted by huge financial gains.

While poachers are not impeded by conventional tracking techniques, they are also developing new ways to kill even more systematically. Equipped with the latest technology such as night vision, helicopters and powerful guns, they have even started poisoning water holes with cyanide, killing entire herds of elephants at once. At this rate, if nothing is done, elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 10 years. Yes, 10 YEARS.

Wings for Elephants and Rhinos

AirShepherd 6 step process for preventing poaching

In this context Air Shepherd offers what we think is an innovative solution. Given the necessity to act quickly at any time, their UAVs could be the best solution so far against poachers. When a mobile ground control station is deployed, a small team of engineers and a pilot can carry out a surveillance mission over a radius of up to 50 km. They only need to be connected by radio to a team of rangers on the ground ready to intercept poachers (even at night thanks to infrared imaging). After over 4000 missions in South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe, studies show that poaching activities in areas patrolled by drones can be reduced to zero.

Operating as an initiative of the Lindbergh Foundation, Air Shepherd is about to start new campaigns in Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. Do not hesitate to support them. Drones are by far the best way to prevent traffickers from mass killing elephants, rhinos and anything else standing in the way.

Of course Air Shepherd has now been added to our growing library of sustainability solutions. Stay tuned for our next story on the use of drones for sustainability.

All images property of AirShepherd.org

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