In the past few years, illegal poaching activities have skyrocketed in many African and Asian countries. The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that less 900 mountain gorillas still exist, and no more than 2,000 grevy zebras are alive. It’s believed that many species — including both African and Asian elephants, rhinos, and tigers — will be extinct within our lifetime.
While conservation areas and governments employ rangers to monitor and care for wildlife populations, too often the presence of poachers is discovered after the fact. In many areas, out of date technologies such as tracking collars, are used and yield little success. For years, rangers have needed new, innovative ways to track the activities within parks, and ensure the safety and protection of endangered wildlife
One of the newest forms of technology being utilized are drones. We’ve covered the topic of drones before, and shared many stories of how they are helping development projects across various sectors such as humanitarian relief. But now, drones are helping animals as well.
Within the past two years, drones have been used to monitor wildlife reserves from the sky so rangers can have a live-stream of what is happening. While in the air, drones can monitor much larger areas than rangers on the ground. They also utilize infrared cameras, which show both animals and humans separately, and help track movements more precisely. Additional cameras can also be mounted to track different species that live in trees.
For optimum results, drones must be backed by rangers on the ground. In most cases, the drones relay signals back to rangers, who are positioned within a specific distance of the machine. Once the drone gives a signal that poachers are potentially within range of wildlife, rangers are able to act quickly, stop any illegal activities, and ensure the protection of wildlife. Drones can also be used to track travel patterns and determine where the animals may move to next, which allows rangers to follow them at a safe distance.
Behavioral patterns of poachers can also be monitored: it was found that poachers who hunted in the Balule Reserve in South Africa often struck at night near paved roads. From this information, rangers were stationed near all paved roads after sunset, and able to deter poachers from attacking wildlife.
Drones can also be easily used to count populations, which can be difficult for rangers to do on foot. They can also be used to help track elusive animals that rarely come in contact with humans, but still suffer negative effects of poachers (who hunt them out). Drones are also extremely useful for tracking wildlife in various climates that cannot be easily accessed by humans.
Arguments have been made that common technologies currently used — such as tracking collars on animals — were invented and introduced in the late 80s and early 90s, and are now outdated. Newer technologies like drones need to be used because poachers are coming up with new ways to hunt animals. Only by moving forward and implementing new, innovative technology, can the protection of endangered species be ensured
Drones have already been used in the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, India, and starting this month, ten additional regions across India will begin to use drones to monitor tigers in their natural habitats to curb illegal hunters. There are less than 3,000 wild tigers left, and poaching throughout India has been on the rise as these animals come in contact with humans.
In Nepal, drones have been successfully used in national parks, where rangers are responsible for protecting species such as bengal tigers and one-horned rhinos. The World Wildlife Fund has also received a $5 million grant from Google to employ drones to help monitor wildlife and stop poachers throughout Namibia.
For more information on the use of drones to help monitor and protect wildlife, read this article from National Geographic. Also check out the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge, which saw events take place earlier this month.