By James Kariuki
Wildlife protection in Kenya is set for a technological revolution this year after a pilotless drone was released for a two week trial run at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy ahead of its rollout later in the year.
In a statement, Ol Pejeta said that while the Aerial Ranger surpassed all expectations during its two-week African safari, there is still some way to go before it makes a regular appearance.
US auto-pilot maker Airware flew in its technicians who carried out the trials for the 2 kilogramme Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV), dubbed the Aerial Ranger.
“To avoid the need for Ol Pejeta to employ full time pilots and engineers, Airware has developed a simple digital mapping interface, meaning that even a technophobe with no pilot training should be able to control the drone from the ground station.
“While the sensors are tweaked, the screws tightened and the wires adjusted, wildlife conservationists everywhere can prepare themselves for a revolution,” said Ol Pejeta’s Public Relations and Marketing Manager Ms Elodie Sampere.
Drones are best known for their use mainly for military purposes, but UAVs have also been deployed for peaceful purposes such as security surveillance in wildlife sanctuaries and in large industrial firms.
DEPLETION OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
The idea to launch a pilotless drone was mooted a year ago and about Sh3 million raised via crowd funding where wildlife lovers across the world contributed cash for the project.
This followed an increase in elephant and rhino deaths in Kenya as the market for their precious tusks and horns grew leading to a rapid depletion of endangered species. (READ: Ol Pejeta gets white rhino in breeding plan)
Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya is East Africa's largest black rhino sanctuary and spends the majority of its budget and human resources trying to protect rhinos and other at-risk species.
Equipped with Airware's autopilot platform and control software, the Aerial Ranger has the capacity to deliver real time video and thermal imaging feeds to a team on the ground, day or night, thereby enabling security agencies to respond promptly to any poaching incidents in the field.
“The entire operation could then be commandeered from the air directing security officers on foot. While it gross reduces costs of patrolling the 52,000 acre conservancy, the images recorded could also be produced in court as evidence against suspected poachers upon arrest. The deterrent factor alone could have a significant impact on poaching incidents,” said a statement from the conservancy.
The drone once launched will also open up virtual safaris to billions of people worldwide at a fee.