16-12-2016
Out of Africa – STOP RHINO POACHING
by David Willems

The fact that UAVs are increasingly playing a variety of roles across a spectrum of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions is undisputed. stoprhinopoachingHowever, restricting medium sized UAVs to a narrow band of military and specialist missions is short sighted according to  David Willems, Head of Business Development at UMS SKELDAR http://umsskeldar.aero , who cites the requirement for endurance and sophisticated UAVs and interchangeable payloads in anti-poaching activities as a prime example of where  smart procurement can paid dividends. Integrated ISR and UAV strategies can make a serious contribution in the fight against a range of illegal activities from rhino poaching to drug smuggling and a myriad of scenarios where it is not feasible to use boots on the ground alone. 


South Africa boasts the largest populations of Black and White Rhino, accounting for approximately 93% and 40% of the total white and black rhino populations respectively. While populations have increased dramatically over the last half century, in the early 1900’s White Rhino population plummeted to between 20 and 50 individuals in the KwaZulu-Natal area. Since this devastating brush with extinction huge efforts have been made to re-establish the species across the globe. Latest figures place White Rhino population at around 20,000 – admittedly an impressive increase, but an increase in poaching means more efforts are now being put into protecting Rhino’s rather than strengthening the current populations.

Above: Graph showing South African rhino poaching statistics using data published by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2016)

Above: Graph showing South African rhino poaching statistics using data published by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2016)

 


South Africa boasts the largest populations of Black and White Rhino, accounting for approximately 93% and 40% of the total white and black rhino populations respectively. While populations have increased dramatically over the last half century, in the early 1900’s White Rhino population plummeted to between 20 and 50 individuals in the KwaZulu-Natal area. Since this devastating brush with extinction huge efforts have been made to re-establish the species across the globe. Latest figures place White Rhino population at around 20,000 – admittedly an impressive increase, but an increase in poaching means more efforts are now being put into protecting Rhino’s rather than strengthening the current populations.

Since 2007 poaching has increased at an alarming rate, with the value of Rhino horn increasing and more individuals willing to risk their lives to acquire just a single horn.

Current values place the price of rhino horn at around $60,000 per kilogram, meaning a single horn can fetch around $180,000 depending on size. Where does this horn end up? Many believe China is the biggest ‘consumer’ of Rhino horn, but in fact Vietnam is the centre for Rhino horn demand.

In 2015 South African poaching levels were noted at 1175 – a decrease of 40 compared to the previous year. This is the first time rhino poaching has fallen in a decade but one national park continues to suffer as poaching increases year on year.

Kruger National Park is is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi) in north-eastern South Africa. Home to more than half the South African rhino population Kruger National Park is the hardest hit by poachers. In 2015 Kruger National Park lost 826 rhino to poaching, this equates to 70% of all South African rhino poaching occurring within KNP.

With a landmass equal to that of Israel, monitoring such a large area is one of the largest challenges facing rangers of the park. Kruger holds about 300km of the eastern international border of the country making it easier for criminals to not only enter the park but to escape into the neighbouring countries. The biggest threat facing KNP rhino’s comes from over the border in Mozambique where those desperate enough initiate carefully planned incursions from the Mozambique border region in a bid to get their hands on a single horn.

Kruger’s big game poachers operate at full moon with night vision instruments and large calibre rifles, fitted with suppressors and sophisticated telescopes. In 2012 some 200 poachers were apprehended, while former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano said that almost 500 Mozambican poachers have been killed by armed rangers at South Africa’s Kruger Park in the last five years as protection of the species is continuously upped.

In a bid to out manoeuvre poachers game reserves and national parks are turning to technology to help protect their precious inhabitants. From GPS tagging, thermal and infrared CCTV to artificial intelligence prediction software that observes patterns in poaching to predict where the next attack is likely to take place.

In recent years reserves in Africa and Asia have been exploring the implementation of UAV platforms to monitor large landscapes.

The nocturnal surveillance in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve comes amid international discussion about whether technology, particularly RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems), will make a real difference in anti-poaching efforts that often rely on the “boots on the ground” of rangers on patrol.

Only a few years back, UAVs were proclaimed by some as a silver bullet for conservation, but some experiments have foundered. Despite this, UAV technology is developing quickly and the aircraft have been used around the world, including:

 
  • In Belize, where the Wildlife Conservation Society helped deploy UAVs to successfully monitor a protected reef area for illegal fishing, according to David Wilkie, director of conservation measures for the group.
  • In Indonesia, where UAVs have surveyed threatened orangutan habitats.
  • In Africa, where the World Wildlife Fund is exploring the use of UAVs and other anti-poaching technologies, using funding from Google.

“It’s a very dynamic battle space where the poachers are continually responding to advances in technologies,” explains Arthur Holland Michel, co-director at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Poachers could, for example, seek vegetation cover to try to avoid being spotted by drones or use informants to monitor drone teams and learn when the skies are clear.

“They have great potential,” Wilkie says of UAVs. “I think they’re not there yet.”

Arthur Holland Michel (pictured left) with UMS SKELDAR’s head od sales Carl Foucard discussing potential applications of surveillance UAVs

Arthur Holland Michel (pictured left) with UMS SKELDAR’s head od sales Carl Foucard discussing potential applications of surveillance UAVs

Monitoring from the sky is becoming more popular with national parks, Kaziranga National Park in India, numerous reserves in Kenya and even Kruger National Park are all implementing or exploring the option of launching unmanned aerial vehicles into their skies in a bid to target poachers quickly and efficiently and of course without risking the lives of rangers.

South African conservationists now scan live video from a thermal-imaging camera attached to a drone, looking for heat signatures of poachers stalking through the bush to kill rhinos.

The nocturnal UAV surveillance in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve comes amid international discussion about whether technology, particularly drones, will make a real difference in anti-poaching efforts that often rely on the “boots on the ground” of rangers on patrol.

While groups with limited budgets often opt for types of drones used by hobbyists. A military-grade, UAV with a powerful engine and sophisticated radar that can look through canopy and detect metal—a poacher’s car or motorcycle, for example—could be more effective. The range of sensors available to the UMS SKELDAR portfolio of rotary and fixed wing UAVs immediately place them as serious contenders to up the game against poachers and organised gangs who will not stop and murdering game keepers and wildlife protection personnel as they go about their sordid trade.

In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 a dehorned rhino and her baby in their corral at a rhino orphanage in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in the KwaZulu Natal province. Conservationists are operating anti-poaching drones in the park to help curb the slaughter of rhinos. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 a dehorned rhino and her baby in their corral at a rhino orphanage in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in the KwaZulu Natal province. Conservationists are operating anti-poaching drones in the park to help curb the slaughter of rhinos. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

An initiative that has been gaining traction since 2013 is a project backed by WWF, which is using a $US5 million ($A6.5 million) grant from Google to support the use of technology in countering wildlife crime. The initiative is said to be part of the Air Shepherd program of the U.S.-based Lindbergh Foundation. Air Shepherd is a programme of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, dedicated to sustaining the Lindberghs’ legacy of using technology to balance the effects of human development on the environment. 

Unmanned air systems as a tool for anti-poaching have a variety of capabilities which according to John Petersen, Chairman of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, have the “potential to shut down poaching entirely in areas where they are deployed.”

The Air Shepherd Initiative says it uses military-style computer analytics to identify poaching hot spots, and then sends silent UAVs equipped with night vision to track down poachers. In partnership with the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), they use algorithms to predict when and where the poaching will take place. Rangers are then pre-deployed to intercept poachers before the rhino is killed.

 

 


 

References:

https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/thorny_issues/poaching_crisis_in_south_africa
https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/poaching_statistics
https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/rhino_population_figures
http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/first-four-months-of-2016-sees-363-rhino-poached-20160508
http://www.poachingfacts.com/poaching-statistics/rhino-poaching-statistics/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kruger_National_Park
http://phys.org/news/2016-02-south-africa-drones-rhino-poaching.html
http://qz.com/67014/not-just-for-the-taliban-anymore-drones-are-now-tracking-rhino-poachers/
http://www.krugerpark.co.za/krugerpark-times-e-6-rhino-poaching-update-25237.html
https://hluhluwegamereserve.com/
http://www.maravipost.com/2016/09/10/malawi-welcoming-anti-poaching-drones-supported-google-wwf-conservation-group/
http://airshepherd.org/

 

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