Air Shepherd launches funding drive as anti-poaching UAV flights begin in Zimbabwe



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The Air Shepherd programme, which supports the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to combat wildlife poaching, has announced an additional UAV team in Zimbabwe and a new fundraising initiative.

From 1 September South Africa’s UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) began anti-poaching flights in Malawi on behalf of Air Shepherd, and recently began flying in Zimbabwe.

The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd programme on 5 October announced the launch of a new crowdfunding campaign that will raise money for more Air Shepherd teams across Africa via funding platform Indiegogo.

Air Shepherd began operations in South Africa in December 2015. An Air Shepherd drone team was launched on 1 September in Malawi and a new team has begun flying in Zimbabwe—both with financial assistance from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Expansion plans are proceeding for other African countries – plans that will rely on funds raised through the current campaign, Air Shepherd said.

Air Shepherd teams operated by UDS have flown more than 6 000 hours and 4 000 missions. UDS mainly uses its battery powered Bat Hawk UAV, which can stay aloft for 2.5 hours and uses a thermal imaging camera to spot poachers, but the company also provides multirotor UAVs. Once poachers are spotted by the UAVs, rangers are sent to intercept them. The aircraft fly 40 kilometres beyond line of sight and are typically airborne for 3.5 hours at a time.

“With the Great Elephant Census (GEC) releasing new data on elephant populations, the urgency for more Air Shepherd teams couldn’t be clearer. Elephant numbers across several African countries are much lower than previously estimated. Between 2007 and 2014 elephant populations plunged at least 30%—in some areas as much at 75%,” Air Shepherd said.