Government bodies in Namibia have partnered with Google and the WWF to launch a new kind of drone to police the wilds and track down elephant and rhino poachers.
With a couple of field tests already completed, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has been using drones to live track the whereabouts of wildlife that are at risk of poaching. In the test flights, the two-meter winged drone followed herds of black rhino in two national parks, day and night, and relayed the information to a base station where rangers are located. The rhinos in the parks have all been equipped with smart radio tags while ground-based sensors were also placed in the parks.
Google is providing funding for the technology and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a strong advocate of this use of drones for the protection of wildlife from poachers, something that has become more and more prevalent over a number of years. The WWF put up the Global Impact Award of $5 million last year to find new, innovative ways to curb poaching, which Namibia is availing of.
Concerns over the preservation of wildlife have been growing every year, especially after the Western Black rhino was declared officially extinct in late 2013 with the last sighting in 2006. This has led to anti-poaching activists looking to technology to address the issue, like the establishment of WildLeaks, a sort of WikiLeaks for anonymously reporting poaching via online anonymity platform Tor. Now we are seeing the application of drones to protect wildlife in real time.
“I was inspired by what the Global Impact Award allowed WWF and MET to accomplish, we broke new ground using technologies that have never been integrated before that provide a powerful wildlife protection solution,” said WWF’s Crawford Allan, head of the fund’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project.
Video: New Scientist
Namibia is one of the first countries to attempt to get these wildlife policing drones off the ground. There have been initiatives considered in the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Seychelles. Meanwhile, there have been similar efforts in Nepal.
The Zambian Carnivore Programme, a non-profit trust, aims to protect large carnivores that are endangered. They will soon be testing VHF-radio-equipped quadcopter drones in the US for use in Zambia’s largest national park, Kafue National Park this summer.
The illegal wildlife trade is believed to be worth up to $10 billion every year and, according to WWF, around 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Africa in 2012. In 2013, more than a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa alone.