Drones Can Curb Poaching, but They’re Much Costlier Than Alternatives

A team of experienced rangers practice tracking formations used when doing reconnaissance patrols to gather information on poachers operating in a protected area in Malawi.

A team of experienced rangers practice tracking formations used when doing reconnaissance patrols to gather information on poachers operating in a protected area in Malawi. (Photo by Rory Young)

By Patricia Raxter and Rory Young

Across the globe poaching and wildlife crime are decimating species, from charismatic megafauna like African elephants and rhinos to small and adorable pangolins to brightly colored parrots. An estimated 100,000 African elephants were poached for their ivory from 2011 to 2013. Since 2007, rhino poaching has increased 9,000 percent.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost 50 percent of its wildlife in the past 40 years. While habitat loss and environmental degradation clearly take their toll, poaching for human consumption has emerged as a key factor driving this loss.

As organized crime has penetrated the illegal wildlife trade, it has gotten more sophisticated and almost impossible to stop. We‘re in the midst of an environmental crime crisis which could, if left unchecked, have irreversible consequences.

Increasingly, conservationists and policymakers are turning to technology solutions to combat wildlife crime, including drones, satellite imagery, predictive analysis, DNA analysis, hidden cameras, GPS location devices, and apps.

In some regions, new technologies are already making an impact. For example, organizations seeking demand reduction are skillfully using such technologies to change the habits of Chinese consumers, the world’s largest market for wildlife products.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has reached hundreds of millions of Chinese through social media applications like Wechat. IFAW’s augmented reality elephant, “Laura,” is spreading awareness of wildlife through “live” interactions with Chinese consumers, most of whom have never seen a living elephant.

At the supply end of the chain in Africa, where elephants are poached by the tens of thousands each year and rhino poaching has reached historic levels, drones are increasingly —> Read More

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