After a year of field-testing, the World Wildlife Fund announced that unmanned aircraft and related systems can be effective in deterring poaching in Africa.
The WWF worked with the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism on a project funded by the Google Global Impact Award, which included field-testing in two national parks in Namibia in 2013.
The team tested several unmanned aircraft, including from Colorado-based Falcon UAV, and subsequently decided to use the Falcon in all the rhino and elephant areas monitored in Namibia. Combined with radio-frequency identification chips, ground-based sensors and other hardware and software, the UAV was able to help monitor wildlife movements.
“I was inspired by what the Global Impact Award allowed WWF and MET to accomplish,” says Crawford Allan, lead of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project at WWF. “We broke new ground using technologies that have never been integrated before that provide a powerful wildlife protection solution.”
Trade in illegal wildlife can be worth up to $10 billion a year, according to WWF. Poachers killed an estimated 30,000 elephants in Africa in 2012 and 1,004 rhinos in 2013 in South Africa alone.
The technology must be paired with well trained park rangers on the ground who can respond rapidly to the data coming in from the UAVs and sensors, says Pierre du Preez, the chief conservation scientist for Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism.