Africa’s fight against poaching is often described as awar. Illegal killing is on the rise, fueled by growingAsian demand for ivory and rhino horn. Expertsestimate that more than 35,000 African elephants arekilled every year. And rhino poaching is thought tohave reached its highest levels.
African conservationists no longer rely on simple footpatrols. South Africa is already using surveillancedrones to monitor its wildlife in national parks. Kenyaplans to do the same. The fight against poaching is amodern war, and it is becoming increasingly high-tech.
A small white airplane, the DT26, flies into the skiesover the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. Theplane is a drone, and its designers hope it will soon be used to catchpoachers.
Mike Chambers runs Bathawk Recon, the company that made the drone. He says that right now, Tanzania’s rangers do not have the resources evento keep up with poachers.
“With a quarter of a million square kilometers of protected area, it’simpossible with the budget that Tanzania has to cover that area effectively.Resources available to rangers just aren’t going to be able to do it,especially at the moment, where the resources for poachers are risingbecause of the international demands.”
Mike Chambers says his drones cover large areas that otherwise would beimpossible to watch. Drones are a technological tool that can greatly reducepoaching and give park officials more help.
“Drones give a multiplier effect to rangers. If we can cover four or fivethousand square kilometers with a pod of drones, then fewer rangers areneeded to cover that area because they can be organized as a reactionforce, and to go where we have found the incidents to be occurring.”
In neighboring Kenya, the wildlife service is focusing on genetics tostrengthen legal cases against poachers. Last month the service opened alab in Nairobi where suspected bush meat can be identified.
Philip Muruthi is Chief Scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation. He saysthat along with ivory poaching, illegal bush meat hunting is also reducingKenya’s wildlife population. Until now charging those who hunt or catchgame illegally has been difficult. Poachers often claim giraffe or zebra meatis beef, and proving otherwise can be difficult.
“Often law enforcers in the wildlife area lose their cases because theycannot authenticate. They can’t prove in a court of law that that which theyare using as an exhibit is actually prohibited wildlife material.”
Muruthi says the new lab should be able to tell the kind of animal the meatcomes from. The lab also will be able to provide a genetic database ofKenya’s endangered animals. The information can help charge ivory andrhino horn poachers.
“When you find samples from anywhere in the world you can take thosesamples and match them to your database, and be able to say where theconfiscated item comes from. So if you are trying to nail somebody in acourt of law, you can say, well, this is something that you are traffickingillegally.”
Conservationists point out that technology is only as good as the peoplebehind it. They say that Africa’s endangered animals still depend on thepolitical will to protect them. That desire, they say, is sometimes lacking.