Saturday, February 23, 2013

World Wildlife Fund Turns to UAVs to Tackle Poaching

WWF officials with UAVs in Nepal

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently turned to using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in an effort to combat the illegal poaching of elephants, rhinos, and tigers conducted by increasingly complicated and fully equipped cartels. The organization provided two hand-launchable UAVs to the Nepali government in 2012. In December of that year, Google awarded WWF $5 million to create more extreme UAV systems in hopes that they will minimize poaching of endangered species and help save lives of rangers and other wildlife officials appointed to protect them. One particular UAV system that is currently in development is dubbed SMART. This system, which is comprised of UAVs, sensors, and software, will enable authorities to fight poaching more strategically. In order to do this, the system will concurrently track the locations of animals, poachers, and rangers. Of these, tracking rangers and other law enforcement units will be easy since they will be given GPS units. Animals, on the other hand, will be little more challenging since they require electronic tagging. Tracking poachers will require a UAV video surveillance flowed to operators on the ground. This will be boosted by the adding of night-vision cameras and thermal imaging (if possible). The data will be assembled and analyzed by a data management system at the ground control center. This will allow rangers to be utilized in locations, where they will intercept or surround the poachers before they can reach their intended targets.

Crawford Allen of the WWF suggested that countries who are partners with the organization may provide their own UAVs. In addition to Nepal, Namibia is another one of the four countries, two in Africa and two Asia, where SMART could be deployed. Allan also stated that Namibia already has its domestic low-cost UAV possibly acceptable for the job. In addition, the WWF is still in talks with UAV manufacturers to create a working system. The organization's purpose is to provide software and training, and if necessary, hardware, to countries plagued with the ongoing threat of poaching. Allen further explained that individual governments of these countries will operate their own initiatives. He is also keen to urge that in addition to UAVs, other advanced technological options can be implemented for conservation surveillance. These methods include closed-circuit television cameras on poles, which have been placed at the boundaries of Corbett National Park in India and fastened surveillance balloons outfitted with 360-degree day and night-vision cameras.

I'm extremely impressed and proud that the World Wildlife Fund has turned to a series of technological methods to tackle poaching. One of these is through the use of UAVs, especially in areas that have suffered tremendously from the threat of poaching. This tactic was first implemented in Nepal, and is now in the process of being carried out in other countries. Some countries like Namibia and South Africa have already deployed their own individual UAV systems to combat poachers. The rise of rhino poaching in South Africa had grown from 448 animals killed in 2011 to 633 last year. Recently, in 2013, the death toll increased to 102. What is even more scary is that majority of the rangers and other law enforcement units are at risk of being ambushed and outgunned, due to hi-tech sophisticated equipment such as night vision goggles carried by poachers. For this reason, South Africa resorted to developing its UAV system to prevent any further casualties of rangers against their adversaries.

In addition, the poaching of elephants has also followed a similar upward curve in recent years. In countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cameroon, and others, the elephants are in the midst of a brutal and bloodthirsty slaughter from not just poachers but militant groups like the Janjaweed, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and the Shabab. These sadistic factions see the ivory as key to fund their civil wars, which involve brutally massacring innocent civilians. Furthermore, rangers and other authorities are at a far greater risk of being killed or even having their loved ones end up in the murderous hands of these cutthroats. This is why I believe it is absolutely crucial to provide these countries with UAVs to prevent any further casualties of wildlife officials. The vehicles would not only help the authorities in protecting elephants and other wildlife, but also people at risk of being ruthlessly slaughtered by these groups. The threat of poaching has kept up with the latest technology in recent years, and now it is time to become even with this ongoing terror threatening to wipe out both animal and human off the face of the earth.

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