The Ole Pejeta Conservancy has just raised KES 6.6 million to buy a UAV Drone in a bid to combat poaching in some parts of the country. The award-winning sanctuary has announced that, starting March, 2013, they will deploy a drone that will be able to cover 90,000 acres of land within the conservancy.
This month, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers in Isiolo County hunted down a gang and killed two poachers in the ensuing shoot-out.
Now Ole Pejeta plans to test-fly a USD 75,000 (KES 6.6 million) drone in order to keep poachers at bay while monitoring the animal population.
The region, which is known to have the highest record of natural predators anywhere in the country, has been riddled by incidences of poaching in the recent past. Last year alone, Kenya lost 360 elephants to poachers, fuelled by a rising demand for ivory in some parts of Asia.
According to Al Jazeera, Ivory costs USD 1,000 (KES 87,500) per pound in the Far East, while rhino horns fetch up to USD 30,000 (KES 2.6 million) per pound. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) reports that ivory and rhino horns serve to provide trinkets, aphrodisiacs and medicine to a niche market of corporate elitists in China and other parts of Asia.
The demand has led to what Prime Minister, Raila Odinga terms as “a global surge in poaching.”
Since then, conservationists like the Kenyan based group, Save the Elephants, having taken to using hi-tech collars to monitor the beasts. The collars are fitted around animals' necks and emit mobile phone and satellite signals, allowing rangers to keep track of animals via Google Earth. Whenever an elephant stops moving, the collar sends out an alert signal and rangers rush to investigate the scene.
Meanwhile, Ol Pejeta already has 160 armed guards stationed across the 90,000 acres (360 Square Kilometres). The Conservancy holds four of the world's last remaining seven northern white rhinos and intends to have that population monitored using this new technology.
The drone can be launched either by hand or catapult, and can cover 10,000 acres during each flight. The device relays a live-stream camera feed to the rangers on the ground. It also comes with a thermal imaging system which enables it to carry out patrols by night.
"This isn't just about using aerial surveillance systems,” says World Wildlife Foundation anti-trafficking expert, Crawford Allan. “This is about understanding where the animals are on the ground, using low-cost technology to electronically tag animals."
"It's a new approach that could change the game and really deter poaching," Allan added.
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