By Zarir Hussain
India said Monday it is deploying drones over a reserve to safeguard the rare one-horned rhino from poachers, the first time the country has employed aerial technology to protect wildlife.The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) gives patrols a new strategic advantage with an eye in the sky, allowing access into previously unreachable areas and a safe view of illegal activities on the ground.
"This is the first time in India that the UAV technology is being used for protecting the wildlife," Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain told reporters in the state's main city of Guwahati.
"The presence of the UAVs will also serve as a deterrent to poachers since they now know the parks are being monitored both on the ground and from above."
The drones are being flown over the Kaziranga National Park, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Guwahati, in the northeast of the country, park officials said.
The UAVs are light enough to be launched by hand, taking images of the ground below with a still or video camera.
"They can fly a pre-programmed route at a maximum elevation of 200 meters (yards) for up to 90 minutes. The battery can be recharged as and when required," K. Ramesh, co-ordinator of the Wildlife Institute of India, told AFP.
Kaziranga has been fighting a long battle against rhino poachers who kill the animals for their horns, which fetch huge prices in some Asian countries.
The main market for the horn is China where it is used for making medicine and jewellery while in Vietnam many believe it has cancer-curing and aphrodisiac qualities.
At least 21 rhinos were killed last year by poachers in Kaziranga while another 15 have been reported dead this year.
A 2012 census in the park put the number of the rhinos at 2,290 out of a global one-horned rhinoceros population of 3,300. More....