Drone package delivery promises to be exciting but drones that protect endangered animals from poachers would be even more satisfying. Prototypes to do just that are being tested in Africa now.

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The California-based company Airware, which specializes in autopilots for unmanned aircraft systems, recently collaborated with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya to test out a new drone. Airware did dry runs on three different unmanned aerial vehicles intended to keep a protective eye on endangered animals from the sky, both day and night.

The company recently completed two weeks of testing at the 90,000-acre reserve in Kenya, where they used infrared-equipped drones to log people, animals and vehicles passing below, Ariel Schwartz reported in Co.Exist. While the drones can’t do anything about this hunter’s plans, Airware hopes drones will become an effective way for the Conservancy to survey the area.

A drone with Airware’s autopilot platform and control software could also be a poaching deterrent. It can send real-time digital video and thermal images from fixed and pivoting cameras to rangers on the ground, according to the company. Any sign of poachers and rangers can use the drone info to send in a security team.

Endangered black and white rhinos remain prime targets. CNN reported that 1,004 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year compared with 668 the previous year. Kenya lost 50 rhinos to poachers last year according to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa.

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The drone solution won’t be a cheap one. Although the price is expected to go down, it could still cost around $20,000 to $50,000, Schwartz pointed out. But the investment seems well worth it for the serious losses it could prevent. I just wish the drones could be equipped with tranquilizer darts — to bring down poachers on the attack.

Photo: A thermal image from Airware’s unmanned aerial vehicle shows animals at night. Credit: Airware (video)