The depredations by poachers of rhinoceros horns in India’s enormous Kaziranga National Park have grown so great that the government is expected to begin patrolling with a surveillance drone in the effort to combat criminals targeting the park’s teeming wildlife.
The park lies in Assam, which is geographically close to the countries which have great demand for rhino horns. Kaziranga lost 22 of the prized animals to poachers in 2012. The pace is picking up. Another 17 have lost their lives and horns to rustlers just since Jan. 1. The Indian Union environment and forest ministry has thus now ratified a proposal from the Assam government for a conservation drone for the park, which shelters 2,329 one-horned rhinoceros. The great beasts are fast losing their habitat across the world because of climate change and human encroachment, making the park an enormously important sanctuary.
The 430 square-km reserve has more than150 anti-poaching camps located within it. Many forest guards have sacrificed their lives fighting the poachers, with so far 54 poachers killed. More than 550 have been apprehended by the authorities over the past decade.
In addition to the unmanned surveillance aircraft, the Assam government has also opted for satellite-based high power electronic-eye cameras to attempt to trace the movement of outsiders. Similarly the provincial government is waiting for approval from the Union home and defense ministries for operating the drones, which can be directed by their operators from offices on the ground. The drones can be programmed to fly at an elevation of nearly 200 meters, with their high-definition cameras helping forest officials to trace the poachers. But this series of drones does not have the capacity to strike, as do military drones. “These drones will only transmit pictures, but finally they are expected to work as a great deterrent to the poachers,” said the Forest Protection Minister. He also said many African nations including Kenya are actively considering using these drones in their forest reserves.
The use of drones has skyrocketed across a wide range of operations having nothing to do with their military uses, ranging from tracking animals, weather monitoring, measuring the health of plants and many others as the devices have grown ever more sophisticated. They can weigh anywhere from a few ounces to tons and can cost anywhere between US$2,000 and millions of dollars.