By Brian Anderson
Poachers had speared the beast in the back. It was the third de-tusked elephant carcass Marc Goss had found in four days, an alarming figure not only in his native Kenya but across a region already devastated by the illegal ivory trade. In Asia, where ivory is stupidly believed to boost libido and cure cancer, her tusks will net the hunters roughly $800 USD.
"It's pretty grim," Goss, who heads up the Mara Elephant Project, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's an elephant without a face. It'll be eaten by hyenas now."
To help beat back poachers—with demand for illicit ivory in China and Thailand having doubled since 2007, according to the UN Enviroment Program, they are more brazen than ever—Goss is taking to what's fast become an essential component in every poacher poacher's toolkit: small-fry unmanned aerial vehicles.
Drones offer the sort of leg-up that for conservationists like Goss is a no brainer. When he spins up a small $300 AR Drone over the land MEP monitors, a 30,000-hectare patch of savannah that borders Kenya's Maasai Marra National Reserve, Goss can easily spot encroaching hunters, and then alert authorities. Or so he hopes.
Either way, both drones and imaging technologies are becoming increasingly affordable as their capabilities get increasingly sharper, versatile, and user-friendly. The time has never been right to send in the drones over the ivory tragedy.
And yet it's still not yet clear just how UAV technology will protect what's left of Africa's elephant and rhino herds, if it can at all. Conservation drones have yet to lead to the arrest of a single poacher.
Sure, Google awarded the World Wildlife Fund a cool $5 million to beef up its drone efforts to sniff out roving bands of poachers that stalk the savannah under the cloak of darkness with guns (and spears) drawn. More....