By James Kariuki
Ol Pejeta Wildlife Sanctuary has received legal approval to launch a Sh3.2 million drone to fight poaching in the 90,000-acre facility.
The sanctuary’s spokesperson Ms Elodie Sampere said the 'Aerial ranger’ will officially be launched in June.
This will be the first time modern technology is used to fight poaching in Kenya.
“It has been quite a journey to get to this point and has taken the leading experts in drone technology-Airware Incorporated, countless development hours. The aerial ranger’s software and hardware were developed from scratch. Tests were conducted and we are upbeat, we now have the right drone strong enough to withstand challenging operating conditions,” she said.
Ol Pejeta recently celebrated the birth of its 100th rhino calf since it was established and hosts one of the largest herds within East Africa.
The sanctuary was also voted the best managed wildlife conservancy in the world in 2013.
Ms Sampere said the drone, once launched, would also reduce costs of conducting wildlife census across its vast land.
She said they used to hire a light aircraft at Sh18,920 per hour for 13 hours, with the data collected being subjected to a large degree of human error as counting has to be done in real time and with wide transects.
“But an Aerial Ranger could do all this in a day, at minimal cost, recording footage that can be watched several times over and carefully analysed. Censuses could be conducted monthly, providing experts with valuable and more reliable data about the Laikipia ecosystem.
“You will simply click a spot on a 'Google Earth’ style map, and select the 'fly here’ or 'point camera here’ option. In the same menu is a 'return home’ button, which, when clicked, will send the drone back to its launch point without any further instruction. When it has reached its landing spot, it deploys its parachute and floats elegantly to the ground. The beautiful simplicity of the operating system, coupled with sophisticated mission capabilities, was a high priority,” she said.