By Erika Bolstad
The exact location of the anti-poaching operation is secret, as is the number of rangers who will be on duty. Also confidential: where the drones will fly as they search out poachers intent on slaying rhinos for their horns – one killed every 11 hours in South Africa alone.
But over the next several days, Tom Snitch thinks that his project, at a private game farm adjoining South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park, will prove that unmanned aerial vehicles can end the scourge of rhinoceros poaching.
Demand for rhino horn has boomed in recent years, with criminal syndicates offering as much as $30,000 a pound for the horns. Poachers already have killed 350 rhinos in South Africa this year; last year, 668 endangered rhinos died for their horns. They’re sold in Asia, particularly in Vietnam, where ground-up horns are touted as a cure for hangovers, cancer and other ailments, and where rising incomes have made the horns accessible to more people and their possession a status symbol. Save the Rhino International, a conservation group, won’t talk about the street value of rhino horn, saying that any mention “stimulates poaching.”
Snitch, who’s on the board of visitors of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland, hopes to use predictive technology to deploy the drones. His team will use the same software that helps predict where terrorists might plant bombs and that recently helped nab arsonist suspects accused of torching more than 60 houses on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Although controversial in their military use, drones have unlimited civilian applications that many hope to deploy in the U.S. in law enforcement, farming and other uses, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval. More....