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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are finally giving conservationists a significant lead in the fight against poachers. Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd Initiative employs drones to track and expose illegal hunting in Africa, giving those fighting poachers a much needed edge.
“Poachers, operating under the cover of darkness, have been impossible to find … until now,” according to the video from the Lindbergh Foundation. The silent and in the darkness practically invisible drones track both wildlife and hunters, promptly relaying the information to ground patrols and enforcement teams. These, then, intercept the poachers before they can slay their targets.
The Air Shepherd programme took some two years to develop, with more than a thousand hours of test flights preparing for real-world requirements. Operators undergo extensive flight training before deploying out into the field, in areas with high risk of poaching activity.
Poaching, particularly of elephants and rhinos, is a deadly enterprise in Africa. Poaching provides a steady source of income to both corrupt governments and terrorist groups and lead to increasing levels of instability in the region.
Poaching is a $5 billion per annum industry in Africa. A single rhino horn sells for up to $500,000 in Vietnam. An estimated 40,000 elephants were slaughtered last in the year alone. The majority of this money goes to smugglers, organised crime organisations, and terrorists.
The Air Shepherd programme is now active in parts of Kruger Park and KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. The vast surveillance coverage provided by drones tips the balance in favour of the small teams tasked with fighting off hordes of poachers in these areas.