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  • If you look at what's happening with the elephant population, and if you look at what's happening

  • with rhino, if we don't do something these things will are going to be gone within the next

  • 10 years. That's a fact of life.

  • When I realized that drones could possibly work and they could do something for poaching,

  • we had to do it.

  • It's become an obsession for me now.

  • Just seems like a natural fit to try and use technology to try to curb this in any which

  • way you can.

  • And as technology evolves and we start to leverage AI and we start to leverage smaller,

  • more sophisticated technology, better battery life, it's only going to get better.

  • The obvious thing is the ability to fly at night, the ability to fly stealthily and quiet,

  • the ability to cover a fairly large demarcated area in a stealthy way.

  • Anti-poaching teams walking around in the bush are not that effective.

  • You're in the African bush at night.

  • There are things out there that want to eat you.

  • If you've ever been out in a National Park like the Kruger National Park, there are a

  • lot of lions, there are a lot of leopards.

  • Even although these are highly experienced trackers,

  • it's still a daunting

  • task for anybody.

  • So typically what happens is we would integrate a drone unit with an anti-poaching unit.

  • If an incursion is detected, the first thing that happens is that the drone is placed into

  • a holding pattern, or a loiter pattern, and we would simply loiter in the radius at an

  • altitude that keeps us working in a stealthy manner.

  • We would have no navigation lights turned on during this process.

  • And we would be watching the activity of the poacher on the ground.

  • And at the same time, the drone team, that consists of a sensor operator and a pilot,

  • would radio in and start giving coordinates to the anti-poaching unit.

  • Sometimes, there can be a firefight and the poachers will return fire and there can be

  • a gunfight and there can be fatalities.

  • I mean, that happens.

  • Probably 30% of the time, that's real.

  • The best result is that the poachers are apprehended and are arrested and end up in the court case.

  • And with a bit of luck, they're prosecuted for doing this.

  • There's very few poaching incidents that take place during the day.

  • The drone that we use the most, the one called the Bat Hawk, which is a two-and-a-half meter

  • fixed-wing aircraft is launched using a bungee cord.

  • And from that point on it's on autonomous flight.

  • We chose to use thermal cameras at night purely because it gives us the opportunity to spot

  • both humans and animals and it makes it incredibly easy for us to find those thermal signatures.

  • A thermal signature is really the heat that is coming off an object.

  • And it's the easiest way to find things in the bush at night.

  • Kruger National Park has a huge issue with rhino poaching and although we don't physically

  • catch poachers that often.

  • We disrupt the whole activity altogether.

  • So if we move into an area and we start flying that area, we find that the poaching in that

  • area literally subsides within two to three days.

  • We'll get the park ranger for that particular area and we'll invite him in, we'll show him

  • how the technology works.

  • And what happens is that guy goes back and

  • that information goes into that local community and suddenly there's no poaching.

  • It just dies down.

  • I love technology, so for me it's always about trying to find better ways of increasing battery

  • life, more efficient speed controllers, better camera technology.

  • Anything to do with a technical aspect of the drone from my side really excites me.

  • So the wings and the tail section

  • are all made out of foam.

  • And the reason we did that was so that it would be very easy to repair if you crash

  • in the bush.

  • We use lithium polymer batteries or lithium ion batteries depending on the nature of the

  • operation and typically operating a six cell configuration at 22.2 volts.

  • So the big thing for us is to have moved away from a bungee-assisted launched aircraft and

  • to start looking at VTOL type aircraft, which means a standard fixed-wing airplane

  • that takes off in a vertical orientation, transitions to forward flight, comes back

  • and lands on the same spot.

  • The one challenge that you've always got when you're landing in the Kruger Park or any of

  • these parks is that the pilot has got to get out of the ground control vehicle and go land

  • this aircraft and you've got all sorts of animals running around there.

  • So it's quite daunting when you walk 100 meters away from your ground control vehicle and

  • you've got to now land on a road in the middle of the bush.

  • You don't know whether these lions are now sitting on the side of your runway in the

  • middle of the bush waiting to come and grab you.

  • There are many facets to this conservation thing and the poaching element.

  • The one is obviously to conserve what little wildlife is left in Africa.

  • Once rhino go, the elephant population is under even more threat.

  • And eventually, when all of that is gone from Africa, you're going to find there's no real

  • reason for people to go and tour countries like Kenya, Tanzania.

  • If you look at the amount of foreign revenue that comes into those countries, it has huge

  • implications for those countries.

  • The other side of it is that a lot of the problems that are happening in South Africa

  • right now, or the poaching that's taking place comes out of Mozambique.

  • And that money is directly translating into funding terrorist organizations, so if you

  • can stop it, you're cutting up an income source for terrorists and you're, at the same time,

  • ensuring that wildlife tourism will remain for the foreseeable future.

If you look at what's happening with the elephant population, and if you look at what's happening

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How Drones Are Fighting Poaching in South Africa

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    Summer posted on 2021/04/06
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