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INSIGHTS

Drones protect South African wildlife from poachers

Drones protect South African wildlife from poachers
Drones are increasingly taking over security surveillance in places difficult for human patrol. One of the latest examples of this can be seen in Africa, where an initiative supported by certain non-profit organizations, a wild-life preservation agency, and a drone manufacturer is helping curb the issue of poaching.
Drones are increasingly taking over security surveillance in places difficult for human patrol. One of the latest examples of this can be seen in Africa, where an initiative supported by certain non-profit organizations, a wild-life preservation agency, and a drone manufacturer is helping curb the issue of poaching.
 
Known as Air Shepherd, the project kicked off in South Africa recently, deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in Kruger National Park and Ezemvelo Nature Reserve. Equipped with high-resolution cameras for both daylight and nighttime infrared scanning, these UAVs help rangers on the ground capture poachers.
 
The initiative is backed by Charles A. & Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, the Peace Parks Foundation, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, and UAV & Drone Solutions.
 
According to the Air Shepherd team, the very presence of the machine with cameras is enough to deter poachers. Following its success in South Africa, other countries in the region are looking to adopt the solution.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras for both daylight and nighttime infrared scanning, these UAVs help rangers on the ground capture poachers.

“The poaching of wildlife has hit record highs and we have come to a critical juncture where action must be taken,” John Petersen, chairman of the board of the Lindbergh Foundation was quoted by ECN. “Fortunately, many other African countries recognize this and have reached out to the Lindbergh Foundation with interest in implementing Air Shepherd pilot programs.”   
 
The drones currently in use are custom designed and work on batteries that offer about two hours’ continuous flying time. They have a solid-state inertial system that maintains its flying altitude regardless of environmental difficulties, GPS and at least two zooming camera systems, one for daytime and the other for thermal imaging in darkness.
 
On-board datalink communications facility enables the UAV to remain connected with the ground control system that would send it operating instructions and receive video streams. The ground team includes a pilot and a systems operator, the former responsible for the drones’ flying and the latter for analyzing the streamed data and forwarding it to rangers who can intercept poachers. 
 
Illegal wildlife trafficking is estimated to be the world’s fourth biggest illicit commerce, valued at US$10 billion per year according to the African Wildlife Foundation. Kruger National Park is home to a large number of surviving rhinos in the world, and is extremely vulnerable to poachers who want to sell the animal’s horns. The story is similar at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve.
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