Drones Deployed In The Wildlife Wars
May 15, 2014

Drones Deployed In The Wildlife Wars

If you happen to see an unmanned drone flying over a field, forest or lake near where you live, don’t panic – it may not be hunting down deadly terrorists, it could just be the latest weapon in the conservationist’s armory.

Illegal activity that threatens wildlife and the environment is nothing new. In the past, the odds were stacked against the environmentalists – especially when large criminal elements were involved in the struggle. Now, however, several conservation groups have adopted military technology to even up the battle. Some of them are even using unmanned drones, like the ones being deployed daily in places like Afghanistan, in their fight for our endangered planet.

In the forefront of this new technological development is the Shadowview Foundation, which provides AES (Unmanned Aerial Systems) drones to conservation groups around the world. The video “What We Do” on their homepage gives a brief outline of their work, but be warned – there are some graphic images in the film, particularly the mutilated rhino with its horn and half of its face removed. But then, this only helps to illustrate why organizations like Shadowview are needed.

Shadowview’s drones are working far and wide. In Africa, they are being used in Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda. In the Namibian Mundulea Nature Reserve, they are used to protect the small rhino population, as well as endangered species such as the rare Cape Pangolin. As South African attempts to reduce poaching have had some success, the highly organized gangs are moving further afield into places like Mundulea. The drones will not only help with finding and tracking the animals themselves, but it is also hoped that the sight of a drone flying over the reserve will act as a deterrent.

In Indonesian Borneo, the orangutan’s very existence is threatened by large-scale land clearance and the illegal capture of young animals to be sold as pets. The orangutan is a large beast, but notoriously hard to find and track. It can take six men to track one animal. Shadowview drones are helping a project by International Animal Rescue to cut down that work and help protect this wonderful species.

The WWF – World Wildlife Fund – uses drone surveillance in its Wildlife Crime Technology project and in places like the Himalayas where Nepalese tigers, rhinos, and elephants are under the watchful gaze of the “eyes in the sky”.

As far back as 2011, the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd used drones in their long running fight to curb the activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. This is dangerous work. A favorite tactic of the Japanese was to prevent Sea Shepherd’s boats approaching factory ships like the Nisshin Maru by using smaller harpoon and security boats to block and tail them. But by using a drone donated by Bayshore Recycling Group from New Jersey, Sea Shepherd can outwit the whalers and track the factory ships all the way to the hunting grounds.

Meanwhile, another group, The Black Fish, has used drones to combat illegal drift net fishing in the Mediterranean off the coast of Southern Italy. The surveillance operation is helping to monitor the drift netters who have become increasingly secretive and hard to track in recent years.

Here in the UK, Britain’s RSPB bird charity is using drones to monitor the breeding of reintroduced and endangered species like the Marsh Harrier, Bittern, and Corncrake. Using thermal imaging cameras, they can even watch the birds at night.

It’s all a far cry from the normal uses of unmanned drones, but another great example of military technology being put to work in more peaceful ways.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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