When you think about organizations using drones for good in Africa, the first that springs to mind is probably Zipline. The California startup has been delivering medical supplies across rural Rwanda and is setting up a similar network in Tanzania.
But drone technology is also being harnessed to save the lives of endangered wildlife. Poaching is still commonplace in Africa and authorities are faced with a number of challenges. Among them are the sheer scale of the land they need to patrol and the fact that killing an endangered animal requires just a small, coordinated group of criminals.
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Air Shepherd want to take back the night
That’s where Air Shepherd come in. The group has been fighting poachers with the aid of drone technology for a number of years now.
“Eighty percent of poaching happens under the cover of darkness.” Air Shepherd head Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg told Time earlier this year. As a result, the Air Shepherd team relies on a combination of drones, AI and thermal imaging to spot poachers at night. “We’re going to take the nighttime back,” he said.
Air Shepherd has worked in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. And at the moment the organization has operations underway in Botswana, too. Understandably, the team is keeping the exact details and location of its efforts under wraps for the time being.
But they did release this brief video update (below), stating that they have commenced operations in Botswana. They aren’t able to provide any more specifics. No doubt that’s because disclosing information relating to missions and locations would put anti-poaching efforts in jeopardy.
But Air Shepherd has confirmed that the team has conducted range tests to cover an area with a high amount of poaching and animal migration. We’re hoping for more details soon.
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How does Air Shepherd operate?
The strategy employed by the Air Shepherd team combines traditional countermeasures on the ground with a more high-tech aerial approach.
The team’s drones gather images and use software to process those images. Air Shepherd usually works off of tips from law enforcement. They are provided with the suspected location of a poaching effort and then, one of Air Shepherd’s 40 pilots navigates a drone to see what’s happening in the area.
Rather than the whir and limited range of a quadcopter, Air Shepherd’s fixed-wing drones are stealthy scouts, armed with both optical and heat-sensitive cameras to spot warm-blooded animals and humans despite the darkness.
The intel gathered can be used to help rangers arrive on the scene in a timely manner. Presumably, it can also be used in court as evidence to put away poachers for good.
We’re looking forward to hearing more about the team’s operations in Botswana.