Google-funded surveillance drones keeping watch over Namibia's rhinos

by Fran
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With the help of Google-funded surveillance drones, Namibia's rhino population is kept under watchful eye. Could this be the answer to Africa's struggle against poaching syndicates?
With the help of Google-funded surveillance drones, Namibia's rhino population is kept under watchful eye. Could this be the answer to Africa's struggle against poaching syndicates?
  • Match the big names of conservation and technology, and you have a force to be reckoned with.
  • Google-funded surveillance drones are monitoring rhino in Namibia, including the Etosha National Park.
  • WWF-International is testing this pilot project in Namibia, with the help and support of the Namibian government.
  • Part of a high-tech wildlife crime project, the surveillance drones and other advanced equipment is attracting great interest - and hopefully deterring poaching syndicates.

When technology and wildlife giants team up, then you know you are looking at a force to be reckoned with.  This is exactly what is playing out in Namibia, where the global conservation giant WWF, is using Google-funded technology to protect Africa’s dwindling rhino population.  According to WWF, they’ve chosen Namibia to feature this latest anti-poaching project because Namibia has shown convincing commitment towards rhino protection, with a track record and rhino protection stories confirming their commitment.

RFID chips and surveillance drones: new spark of hope

We’ve seen the rhino population take a severe plunge. South Africa’s rhino killings reached an all-time high of 1,004 in 2013 - making 2013 the worst year ever for southern Africa’s rhino population  What is particularly disheartening is to witness how one after the other anti-poaching measure just seems to be overhauled by internationally fueled poaching syndicates.  But now, WWF is going high-tech in trying to combat the relentless fight against rhino poaching, and is bringing a new spark of hope through technology.  Rhinos were tagged with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, and off the drones were sent.  

Namibia at the forefront of new anti-poaching program

Two national parks in Namibia, one being Etosha National Park, have Falcon UAVs drones patrolling the sky.  These specialized radio-controlled drones are the rangers’ new ears and eyes, offering surveillance control during both day and night.  Interestingly, these radio-controlled surveillance drones have been designed and developed in such a way that apart from launching by hand, they can be controlled by any Ipad or similar smart technology device. This is opening up an entire new sphere of anti-poaching control for Africa’s rangers. 

The surveillance drones are fully equipped with the latest and most advance technological monitoring equipment, including high resolution cameras, sensors and RFID corresponding to RFID chipped wildlife.  All of these are closely connected to communication systems, keeping staff constantly in the loop of rhino movement and potential presence of poachers, even in the hard to reach corners of the vast national parks. The drones send live footage material to rangers and communication staff, thus the entire park team is in constant communication when it comes to protecting the rhino herds.  

Surveillance cameras

The project also features several surveillance cameras stationed at strategic places throughout the parks. Surveillance cameras at waterholes allow dedicated staff to have their eyes on the ground of the entire park, day and night. It is believed that live footage from the surveillance cameras and drones will play a huge role in reducing poaching, particularly where poachers themselves are not equipped with or making use of advanced technological devices.

Government approval & support

This advanced technology support project falls under WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project – a groundbreaking project which showcases how technology and wildlife protection can be integrated.  The project is also being undertaken in collaboration with Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET).  MET has long called for the support of technology and surveillance as part of anti-poaching initiatives.  Seeing these being implied within two major Namibian parks is thus to their great satisfaction.  Although subject to international funding, if the project proves that poaching can be drastically reduced by the help of advanced technology, then one can surely predict the ministry expanding and taking up similar projects in the near future.  An added advantage is the tracking of wildlife movement, migration patterns and so forth.  These surveillance drones may very well prove their pound’s worth in Africa’s last but not forgotten wilderness locations.

Sources and credits

Photo credits: some rights reserved by Jason Wharam via flickr [Creative Commons]

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