South Africa is experiencing record-high rates of rhino poaching, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The international conservation group reports that 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year, up from 448 in 2011.
Rhinos are an endangered species, but life for many native Africans is very difficult. Although white South Africans enjoy living conditions similar to Western countries, the same can’t be said for their black counterparts. A recent BBC report states that the average black South African makes 60,600 rand per year, about $6,700. Compare this to the fact that a single rhino horn can earn a poacher $12,000 for one night’s work, and the reason for this uptick becomes clear.
Africa’s National parks are protected zones, but limited resources and a sparse network of rangers responsible for monitoring hundreds of thousands of acres make it hard to track and capture poachers before their disgusting deed is accomplished. Now, parks are using creative new methods to get a leg up on the law breakers.
Singita Sabi Sand, the flagship property of South African conservation company Singita, has employed K9 Conservation units to assist in the fight against rhino poaching. Although poachers are sneaky, this strategy has already produced positive results. Once these highly trained tracker dogs are deployed into an area, the news quickly spreads among poachers and criminal syndicates and the level and frequency of poaching incidents and related crime drops dramatically. The dogs track using their keen sense of smell and are extremely effective – even tracking in pitch darkness.
In Kenya, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to four of the last seven Northern White rhinos in existence. With only 120 rangers responsible for 90,000 acres, the Conservancy has experienced similar difficulties with brazen poaching. EarthTechling reports that thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Conservancy has recently partnered with Unmanned Innovation, Inc. to employ unmanned aerial drones in the hunt of would-be rhino killers.
“The drones are fitted with a live streaming HD camera, which is gimbal mounted for 360 degree remote controlled viewing. Each drone can cover 50 miles, and fly for over one and a half hours. Rhino and other endangered species will be chipped with radio frequency ID (RFID) tags. Each chip gives an animal a unique identification number tied to Ol Pejeta databases. Sensors on the drones can then recognize individual animals and use on-board GPS to store an image tagged with location coordinates.”
Although drone technology may be cause for alarm when deployed as weapons or civilian monitoring tools, this demonstrates a positive application. In addition to more efficiently tracking wildlife and providing an “eye in the sky” with which to root out poachers, the drones could be a new avenue for promoting awareness about endangered African species. Ol Pejeta says it may be able to use the feeds to provide people with a birds-eye view of the African wilderness, allowing them to get up close and personal with animals without disturbing them through traditional safaris.
Image via Marlon du Toit/Singita