By David Smith
A rhino farmer in South Africa is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.
Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.
He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.
Radical solutions are needed, he argues, at the end of a year which has seen a record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet demand from the Far East.
Vivier believes the true figure may be closer to 1,000, a significant dent in a population of around 20,000. "We're now eating into our capital of rhino," he said. "From here they are heading rapidly towards extinction. Despite all our efforts, we're just historians recording the demise of a species. We don't have the numbers on the ground to see people and stop them killing the animals."
Around 400 rhinos have been killed this year in the world-famous Kruger national park, which spans 2m hectares – impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. Vivier estimates it as the equivalent of a town with one policeman for every 100,000 houses, "all with the doors and windows and open and rhino horn inside".
He continued: "We need to change the rules of the game. More....