By Paul Marks
Poachers beware. Surveillance drones offer a highly effective way to catch wildlife criminals in the act. Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) came to this conclusion after trialling a raft of wildlife crime-fighting technologies, with funding from Google.
In field tests conducted in two national parks in November 2013, drones with 2-metre wingspans flew day and night missions to video black rhino herds and send live footage to poacher-tracking rangers on the ground. Smart radio tags attached to rhinos allowed the drones to home in on each herd's current location, says Pierre du Preez, MET's chief conservation scientist.
"We broke new ground using technologies that have never been integrated before to provide powerful wildlife protection," says Crawford Allan, leader of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project at WWF, which was also involved.
The MET says it will now deploy drones in areas of Namibia where rhinos and elephants roam. WWF estimates that illegal poaching in Africa nets criminals $10 billion each year – with some 22,000 elephants killed annually and 1000 rhinos killed last year in South Africa alone. Similar projects are under way in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Seychelles.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Elephants and rhinos gain drone protection"