Drones will help protect rhinos

Aerial support: Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, will be used to protect these gentle giants in Ezemvelo parks.
Aerial support: Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, will be used to protect these gentle giants in Ezemvelo parks.

RHINO protection in Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserves has received vital support with the launch of the Air Shepherd Unmanned Aerial Vehicles project.

A partnership between the Lindbergh Foundation, Peace Parks Foundation and Ezemvelo, the project will fund and coordinate an initial 14-month plan for the operational testing and deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, as valuable aerial support tools to assist counter-poaching teams on the ground.

As poachers become increasingly sophisticated, conservation agencies have turned to technology that transcends human limitations and spatial challenges.

“Ezemvelo is excited about the project. I believe that to fight the scourge of rhino poaching we need to be more innovative and never cease to investigate the potential of emerging technologies. Although there is no one method that will be the silver bullet that puts an end to poaching, UAVs usefully complement the multi-pronged counter-poaching strategies that Ezemvelo is already implementing.

“To succeed in this war, Ezemvelo depends on partnerships with various organisations that have time and means to assist in the development of new methods to fight poaching. Such partnerships are critical, as they enable Ezemvelo to redirect its resources to other areas of conservation while our partners focus on coming up and piloting new strategies to fight this plague,” said Ezemvelo chief executive, Dr David Mabunda.

The Air Shepherd operations will see a variety of aerial platforms flown in high risk rhino poaching areas by qualified and licensed UAV pilots. The UAVs are fitted with cameras and sensors that deliver real-time data directly to a central command centre, where trained visual data analysts interpret the data, providing actionable intelligence to ranger forces.

UAVs can cover vast poaching hotspot areas silently and safely from the sky, using clear infrared and thermal imaging technology at night – which is when most incursions occur. Much of the value of proactive detection systems such as UAVs, though, lies in its capability to reduce the level of danger to which rangers are exposed.

New weapon: The chief executive of the Peace Parks Foundation, Werner Myburgh (left) and, Ezemvelo KZN wildlife chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, with an unmanned aerial vehicle that will be used in the war against poaching in Ezemvelo reserves.

New weapon: The chief executive of the Peace Parks Foundation, Werner Myburgh (left) and, Ezemvelo KZN wildlife chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, with an unmanned aerial vehicle that will be used in the war against poaching in Ezemvelo reserves.

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Judi Davis
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