Elephants and rhinos are being killed off at ever faster rates, and demand for their tusks and horns has put them on the endangered species list. But if a group of tech-savvy preservationists have their way, poachers will be dissuaded by camera drones flying over their heads.
Last week, a drone company called Bathawk Recon announced they were running a trial from April 29 to May 3 to test out one of their unmanned vehicles at the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. The goal, they say, is to help rangers catch poachers by surveilling much larger swaths of land than a human could. Their drones work both during day and night, according to the company's website, so they could significantly help in spotting potential poachers before they kill endangered animals. (We've reached out to them to see how the trial went, and will update this post as we learn more.)
Drones have been proposed before as a tool against poachers. In March, the Huffington Post reported that the Lindbergh Foundation was spearheading a project dubbed Air Shepherd with the same aim. That team included engineers from the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computing. Led by Tom Snitch, that group has developed an anti-poaching engine that reportedly "uses sophisticated predictive analytic software (originally developed for the military to predict insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan) along with high-resolution satellite imagery, intricate mathematics and complex algorithms to determine exactly where animals and poachers are likely to be on a given night," according to the Huffington Post.
Poaching is a huge, huge problem in Africa. A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reported that tens of thousands of elephants had been killed over the course of four years. And just last year, more than 1,200 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone, according to data from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. In some cases, these creatures are being killed off faster than they're being born.
"We don't have 70 or 80 years [to stop poaching]," Mike Chambers, Bathawk Recon's director, said in a YouTube video about the trial run. We need to be deciding things and making a difference now."
Here's a video showing more about how the anti-poaching drones will work.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.