Kenya’s Ol Pejeta wildlife conservancy is nearly ready to launch an unmanned surveillance drone that will help to keep an eye on its rhinos, Wired UK reported.
Old Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa and home to four of the world’s seven remaining northern white rhinos, which makes it a target for poachers.
In the first five months of 2013, poachers killed 21 rhinos and 117 elephants in Kenya, the Environment News Service reported. Poachers have also killed a total of six Kenya Wildlife Service rangers since December 2011, including two in July.
The drone will fly 90-minute missions covering 130 miles at a time. The aircraft will track endangered animals by reading their RFID tags using radio frequency and scanning the landscape with thermal imaging cameras.
The sanctuary hopes the drone will solve its problem of “trying to keep track of endangered species across 36,420 hectares of wilderness and with only a relative handful of rangers,” Ol Pejeta’s commercial director Rob Breare told Wired UK.
The $70,000 drone was partially funded by an appeal on charity site Indiegogo, which collected $35,000 for the project.
While it’s not known how effective a drone will be in the fight against poaching, the World Wildlife Fund is investing in similar technology. With $5 million from Google’s 2012 Global Impact Awards program, the organization’s drones are due to start flying over Africa and Nepal next year.