Drones on patrol in Kruger National Park

“If you look at the elephant and rhino population (in national parks in Africa; you will realise that) if we do not do something soon, these animals are going be gone in the next ten years.”

Chilling declaration from Rob Hannaford, the founder of South African developer and integrator of unmanned aviation vehicle systems, UAV and drone solutions. At the time, Mr Hannaford was speaking about the drone project his company was engaged in with Kruger National Park in South Africa, where the parks officials where trying drone technology to deter poaching in the area.

It is sad that SANParks put the kibosh on the project, because their point person said it was not viable – something which UDS countered – but Hannaford is right.

The national and private game parks of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana in Southern Africa have lost thousands of their elephant and rhino populations to poachers who kill them for their horns and tusks, which have a thriving black market in Asia.

With a population of around 8,300 rhinoceroses – the largest in Africa – South Africa’s Kruger National Park in the North east of the country has become a magnet for poachers, suffering a loss of about 1,400 beasts at the height of poaching activities in 2014, according to Poaching Facts. The number has steadily gone done since then, to the effect that the total loss of rhinos to poaching last year was 500.

But the number is still disturbingly high – and UDS had partnered with Kruger National Park to do something radical – rope in drones to tag alongside foot patrols around Kruger National Park to deter poachers.

Drones have joined the fight to save elephants and rhinoceroses in South Africa

In the video, which has surfaced recently, Hannaford describes his company’s activities in the game park, which he says are not always effective in physically catching the poachers; but have had a dramatic impact in reducing poacher presence wherever they are sighted.

Park officials at Kruger National Park – which merged with Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National park to form a gargantuan Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park with will cover almost 100,000 square kilometres in the near future – have been trying to integrate drone technology into their patrol operations since 2017, with varying degrees of success.

With UDS, it seems the wildlife conservation authorities had found something that matched their expectations of stealth patrol missions that would not intrude with the daily lives of animals. Hannaford says they also did night patrols – because poaching is a Nichodemus activity tat needs the cover of darkness – during which their drones would turn on their night vision cameras with thermal capabilities that will allow patrol officers to see where the activity is.

The company’s co-founder also reveals details about the custom-made drone they used for these flight missions, which he says had to be made with the possibility of crashing in mind. But, as we have previously covered here, there is another South African entrepreneur with a passion for wildlife conservation, who is developing a drone that is set to shake the game in wildlife conservation.

Of course, you can pardon the pun.

Robert will be speaking about his creation and the wider impact of drone technology on wildlife conservation at the mid-year edition of the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference, to be held in Johannesburg this June. You can check it out here.

We wish UDS and Kruger Park officials all the success they need in their efforts to keep our wildlife safe. We all know how much these defenceless animals rack in terms of tourism revenue, and we cannot allow the selfish activities of a few greedy people to cheat us out of a good source of economic prosperity.

Credits to Seeker for the video

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