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How Drones Are Helping Wildlife Conservation

Illegal poaching is fast becoming one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities. With rhino horns worth over $65,000 per kilo on the black market, you can start to see why well-organised criminal gangs are setting up international networks in order to take part in illegal poaching.

 

How Drones Are Helping Wildlife Conservation

Guest Post by Emma Mills

In a market that is approaching $70 Billion dollars a year with over 1,200 rhinos killed by poachers in a single year, this criminal activity is becoming a serious issue. The ruthlessness in which these criminals act has taken a great toll on the species as well as the park rangers that are being killed in the line of duty.

Poachers are not beginning to operate during the night, where previously, rangers haven’t been able to find an effective way to deal with them before it’s too late. This is where drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have stepped in to help. Drones can effectively and efficiently capture a given area of land from the air. Drones with infrared cameras and GPS can be operated that send back thermal images of rhinos and of course, poachers. They stay invisible and silent and provide a rapid feedback source of the poachers’ location before they can even begin considering killing these creatures.

The use of drones in rhino conservation can be an effective tool in protecting rhinos against poachers. While drones have been receiving increased media attention as the “silver bullet” bringing a stop to the poaching crisis, it is unclear whether or not the use of UAV’s is having a significant impact on the fight to save the rhino.

In addition to the infrared cameras, GPS and thermal imaging, UAV’s can also use military-style computer analytics that identify poaching hot spots and in turn predict where and when poaching will take place, allowing for rangers to be deployed in these areas before they are attacked.

With these seemingly fool-proof tools deployed to prevent poaching, they do, of course, have their drawbacks. There are concerns that drones can be misused resulting in bans being enforced in certain areas. In fact, Namibia has banned all use of drones in their national parks. Of course, they also come at quite a substantial cost. They require advanced equipment for them to be effective and need a skilled operator to fly them in order to utilise their full benefits, otherwise, it could lead to a very expensive crash. As they have been so effective thus far, they haven’t had any problems in gaining funding for their use. Google gave $5 million to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to purchase conservation drones to be flown over Africa and Asia in order to capture poachers.

If this funding continues and drones are operated in the correct fashion, then this new method may prove to be one of the most effective measures in stopping this criminal activity, from thousands of miles away.

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