In 2014 over 40,000 elephants and 1,200 rhinos were killed by poachers for their ivory horns and tusks, worth as much as $250,000 on the underground market. If this rate continues, both elephants and rhinos will be extinct within the next 10 years. In the past decade, 1,000 rangers have been killed in efforts to stop these illegal activities.
Conservationists and African officials are now turning to new techniques in their fight against poaching. One modern tactic is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones, to catch poachers in the act and protect endangered species such as rhinos, elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, and African leopards. These drones are used by rangers to not only track poachers, but to save injured animals as well.
Drones are perfect tools because they can go undetected where rangers cannot. They are outfitted with night vision cameras and infrared systems to track the poachers that normally hunt at night to avoid detection — poachers can go undetected by rangers from as close as 100 yards. Some NGOs have even developed software that can predict where poachers are going to be. Using data that tracks animal movements, ranger locations, and geographical information, the drones can increase the number of poachers caught and animals saved.
In 2014, Kenya decided to deploy drones to every national park in an effort to stop poaching. A trial run of the program saw poaching incidents drop by 96%. Drones can be used 24 hours a day, are about a yard long, and fly at about 500 feet, which makes them virtually unnoticeable to both the animals and the poachers.
In the future, drones may also play a role in conservation. The sensors and cameras on the drones could be used to collect data on plants and animals to create a natural “census.” This method of tracking animals saves time and money over the traditional system which requires manually counting from the air.