James Bond technology deployed to save elephants and rhinos from poachers


Stuart Winter, The Express

Date Published

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One of James Bond’s most famous gadgets is to become the secret weapon in the battle to save elephants and rhinos. High-flying autogyros – as flown by 007 in You Only Live Twice – are to be deployed against poachers in the African bush.

Agile, stealthy and capable at flying a low speed, the new generation of autogyros – known as Dragons – will give rangers a vital lift in tackling the desperate gangs killing 55 elephants every day.

British-based charity Born Free has launched an appeal to give frontline wildlife protectors aerial advantage in the war to stop the iconic creatures being driven towards extinction.

It costs £50,000 to buy a Dragon GBT 1170 autogyro and train a pilot to fly over tracts of unforgiving African landscape, gathering vital intelligence in minutes that would take weeks for ground patrols weeks to cover.

With London hosting the Illegal Wildlife Trade summit next week, there is a growing global imperative to thwart the estimated £15.5billion a year criminal enterprises pushing endangered wildlife progressively towards oblivion. 

Protecting creatures in the bush and forests is becoming increasingly fraught, with more than 890 rangers killed on duty over the last decade.

Born Free hopes to give rangers vital air superiority in key wildlife zones across Africa by deploying the Dragon autogyros fitted with live-tracking technology, infra-red optics and secure video/voice communications to liaise with on-the-ground rangers.

The Dragons can take off in areas the size of a small garden, fly quietly and safely at low speeds, and also carry an observer along with the pilot.

Autogyros grabbed the public’s attention more than 50 years ago when Sean Connery took to the skies in a heavily-armed one dubbed Little Nellie provided by MI6 quartermaster Q for one of Bond’s most daring secret missions.

Since then, special forces around the world have used the light aircraft in covert operations while they have also provided a boon for law enforcers. Three years ago, a pilot achieved the highest altitude for an autogyro, reaching more than 26,000ft. 

Born Free is teaming up with Staffordshire-based Chimera Aviation to launch its first “dragons of the sky” in South Africa.

The charity’s chief executive Howard Jones explained: “Sometimes the campaign against poaching and other illegal activity, has felt like a debilitating, endless battle. Rhino are systematically targeted by poachers for their horns. Fewer than 29,000 remain, and between 2008 and 2017, more than 7,000 were killed by poachers in South Africa alone. And, as our Born Free ‘Elephants in Crisis’ campaign earlier this year highlighted, an average of 55 African elephants are killed by poachers every day for their tusks. That’s about one every 25 minutes.

“Despite the fact that men and women around the world are putting their lives on the line to tackle the dreadful crimes of illegal wildlife trade and poaching, it just isn’t possible to deter and protect, all day, all night and every day.  

“To cover these vast and challenging areas, to then fight through thick vegetation in time to reach poachers, or to prevent their presence in the first place, has seemed almost impossible. Deploying the Dragon will transform our capability and help turn the current balance on its head.  This will allow our rangers to protect extensive areas safely, economically and efficiently, with much-enhanced surveillance capacity and flexibility, when compared to other aircraft.”

The charity will launch the first Dragons at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, which is home to two of its big cat sanctuaries as well as providing a haven for wildlife across a 100 square miles of rough country, which is patrolled by some of the most advanced anti-poaching units. 

Garamba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has witnessed horrific numbers of elephants being slaughtered in recent years, is also in line for the aircraft.

“We are hoping that with public backing we can prove this method of poaching reduction is effective, and roll out the Dragon initiative in 10 other key areas of Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia within the next 12 months, and provide training for all local pilots and rangers,” added Mr Jones.

For more details, see: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/dragon