Sunday, May 24, 2015

UAVs to be Used in South Africa to Battle Illegal Poaching

Black rhinoceros and calf
South Africa has been viewed as ground zero for poaching activities directed towards elephants and rhinos to feed the ongoing demand of ivory tusks and horns in China and other Asian countries. In response, several measurements have been taken in an effort to minimize poaching but numbers of elephants and rhinos killed continue to increase in this continuous battle to suppress poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Now, it appears that there is a new technique to be used to combat poaching in South Africa: UAVs. These vehicles are part of a 12-month project which is due to start in the forthcoming weeks and whose objective is to use UAVs to stop poachers in South Africa from illegally killing elephants and rhinos. The project, known as Air Shepherd, is part of the Lindbergh Foundation and has boosted finances through crowd sourcing to set up a team in South Africa that will forecast where poachers will be and use UAVs to track them down before they kill any endangered species. The project will use a fixed-wing aircraft with an ability of roughly 1.5h made by UAV and Drone Solutions for its testing. However, Lindbergh Foundation chairman John Petersen indicated that the charity is talking to several manufacturers with considerably longer abilities. Nonetheless, he noted that endurance is not certainly the a conclusive factor in the mission's success if the operators know where to fly the UAV which is what Air Shepherd is trying to do. He further added that game reserves and national parks where the animals reside are large, and the possibility of encountering poachers by chance is slim so knowing where to fly is essential. The University of Maryland is involved in this facet of the project by employing experience it achieved in forming methods and analysis to help military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq figure out where roadside bombs are planted. This includes using behavioral and historical data, weather, and trends of the poachers in order to determine where they may be located. In addition, rangers will be deployed to act on the encrypted information given by the UAV to the ground control station, to try and intercept poachers before they kill the animals. A typical team is said to comprise of three aircrafts and two operators, and in six months of operations, Air Shepherd hopes to have four teams functioning in South Africa. Mr. Petersen stated that the operation will mostly be done at night since that is when poachers are known to operate, but there will also be some work done during the daytime hours. This includes conducting census and counting the animals. The charity is also discussing possible work in countries like Namibia and Zambia.
African bush elephant

The use of UAVs has often been described to be a useful way in preventing poaching. That is, they help rangers and other wildlife personnel detect poachers without exposing themselves. Furthermore, they have proved to be effective in protecting military personnel serving in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq by locating roadside bombs. So the idea was if UAVs are able to detect explosives and save lives of soldiers, then why not use them in detecting poachers. With the use of UAVs, park rangers and other authorities would not have to worry about getting killed by poachers while on the line of duty. The Air Shepherd project, which is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks, will deploy UAVs in South Africa which is hard hit by poaching taking countless lives of elephants and rhinos to feed the insatiable demand of horns and ivory tusks. Hopefully, this method will help make a difference in battling poaching in South Africa and other African countries and save more lives of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species without losing them to poachers.

View article and video here              

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