Sadly, in the time it will take you to read these words, yet another elephant or rhinoceros will have been tragically slain for its ivory and horn, in Africa. The threat they face from poachers is relentless and shows little sign of abating, and while the demand for ivory continues in countries like China, and the ridiculous desire for rhino horn remains prevalent in countries like Vietnam, efforts to combat the issue must be stepped up. Many believe that drones hold the answer to combating poachers, and here’s why and how:
Drones join the fight against poachers in Africa:
It may not matter what you think about drones when they are used for everyday purposes such as delivering packages or for recreation, when their use in helping to track and apprehend poachers is perhaps undisputable.
That said, there is a huge problem to face when it comes to using drones in a country like Africa, which is so vast. Drones can’t simply be launched and flown with the hope of finding something, their use needs to be more targeted.
Tackling the problem of where to fly drones in Africa:
In much the same way that scientists used technology to locate individuals planting IED’s or ‘improvised explosive devices’, their knowledge and experience has been applied to the problem of tackling poachers. They conducted studies into the behaviour and movement of poachers, along with how animals, rangers and drones move through space and time simultaneously. Using the very best satellite imagery, complicated mathematics and highly complicated algorithms, scientists and researchers have been able to determine where animals at risk from poachers are most likely to be on any given night (since most instances of poaching occur during
the hours of darkness). Knowing where the animals are gives the best clues as to where the poachers might be, and using infrared cameras attached to drones, the UAV’s can alert trackers to the poacher’s location or at the very least, where they are most likely to be coming from to attack the animals.
Put in its simplest form, scientists are trying to recreate the environment as it might be on a typical night for poachers, to enable them to identify patterns of behaviour that may help them in the future. This data is collected and superimposed on satellite imagery of the area, enabling them to create maps giving them the best idea of where rangers should be strategically placed, and whether to fly drones that night.
UAV’s can detect heat movement in actual time, such as animals moving across the plains or poachers approaching, and since they are powered by batteries, they are virtually silent and can fly for long distances in a short period of time.
Can the use of drones also act as a deterrent?
Absolutely! Poachers have subsequently discovered that their movements can be detected during the hours of nightfall, and they are more than aware that this has increased the chances of them being arrested or even shot and killed. As a result, many poachers now feel it to be too risky to hunt the animals and kill them for their ivory or horns.
The fight to save our animals and to protect them from poachers is ongoing, but drones have made a positive impact on reducing poaching numbers already, and with the appropriate technology and research, scientists and activists believe that they can continue
to help save them.