Wildlife Officials: Africa Needs Drones To Fight Poachers

Wildlife Officials: Africa Needs Drones To Fight Poachers

African Elephants ThinkStockPhotos

Conservationists and rangers lack the technology to fight increasingly sophisticated poachers in Africa and if species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers are to survive, they’re going to need help, according to a report in TheEpochTimes.

Help – as in a drone that is affordable, durable, and easy to maintain – wildlife experts said in the report.

The battle between poachers and conservationists fighting in Africa over entire species may be won or lost on whoever has the superior technology, the report said.

The future of elephant and rhino populations in central Africa are in jeopardy as prices and demand for animal parts soar in Asia. Poaching is increasing, and wildlife officials are fighting back, testing new technologies such as drones and DNA analysis, and seeking improved ranger training.

But the technology that is available is not affordable or transferable for protecting elephants and rhinos, said Crawford Allan, World Wildlife Federation senior director.

The rate of poaching is unprecedented, Allan said Oct. 31 at a news conference at the National Press Club. Allan is the author of publications on wildlife trafficking, species conservation and wildlife enforcement.

Technology is more important than ever in meeting the crisis, he said.

Protecting wildlife such as elephants and rhinos has changed dramatically, Allan said. He described poachers as well-armed opponents, militias and terrorists who “own the night.” By comparison, rangers are “under equipped and under resourced,” with a “frightening job to guard wildlife.”

There is strong evidence that the ivory trade plays an important role in financing insurgent and terrorist groups, particularly Lord’s Resistance Army, Sudanese Janjaweed militia, and al-Shabab, TheEpochTimes reports.

Poachers have become more sophisticated, hiring soldiers who are sometimes “armed with AK-47s, silencers and night vision goggles,” and using helicopters, said David Kohn in the Fall 2013 edition of TERP. Park rangers are outgunned, the report said.

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $8 billion and $10 billion per year. It’s the fourth largest transnational crime after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking, said Dr. Richard W. Carroll from World Wildlife Federation.

“With tiger bone, rhino horn, and elephant ivory now worth more than their weight in gold, one rhino horn alone is worth more than $450,000, and trade in animal parts has eclipsed blood diamonds,” Carroll said.

“It is not a conservation challenge that conservation groups can deal with any longer. We need partners,” Allan said. “The poachers are stepping up their game and so must we. The rate at which elephants are killed means that in 10 years, forest elephants will go extinct. To think of Central Africa without elephants is abhorrent.”

Three organizations have partnered to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa: The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, WWF, and African Parks sponsored a news conference and a workshop for experts from government, NGOs and technology firms.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson founded the Richardson Center and he is considered valuable for gaining cooperation of African heads of state on the use of drones and training programs, the report said.

Technologies are emerging or being adapted that can make a difference. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and infrared sensors can find poachers and monitor wildlife.

But commercial military-grade UAVs are prohibitively expensive, have short flight times, and are not durable.

Someone needs to develop a drone that is affordable, durable, and easy to maintain, the report said.

“Africa is too big to randomly launch UAVs,” said Thomas Snitch from the Institute of Advanced Computer Studies. Deploying UAVs requires modeling and testing, he said. In order to narrow the areas monitored, mathematical modeling is necessary.

More than 30,000 elephants were killed in 2012 — that’s 96 a day, Carroll said. In the last decade, 62 percent of Africa’s forest elephants in the Congo basin have been killed, he said.

China is the major market for ivory, Carroll said. More than 1 million Chinese businessmen and workers in Africa facilitate the trade.

Rhino poaching increased 30-fold from 2007-2011, he said. In South Africa, 762 rhinos have been killed this year, according to Richardson Center, citing TRAFFIC, which monitors wildlife trade. This number compares to about 13 in 2007, according to WWF. Vietnam and China are the main recipients of the horn, which is ground into powder. Consumers believe it can cure cancer, but it actually has no medicinal value, the report said.

“More large-scale ivory seizure took place in 2011 than any other year in the past two decades, Carroll said. Customs officials seized a record level of 24 tons of illegal ivory—a 10-fold increase over the previous year.

“Tiger poaching is so heavy, for the first time more tigers exist in captivity than in the wild,” said Eric Dinerstein with WWF.

WWF said it is “dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth,” according to the report.