Drones Deployed To Protect Endangered Animals
Vassil, Wikimedia Commons
The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowltontold CNN
. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."
Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.
"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."
It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."
Kevin Pluck, Wikimedia Commons
The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.
The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.
Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.
Paul Maritz, Wikimedia Commons
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."
Ikiwaner, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.
Roland H., Wikimedia Commons
A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.
Valdiney Pimenta, Wikimedia Commons
On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.
Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."
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.
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.
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)