Anti-Poaching Drones – UAVs Assisting in the Fight against Illegal Poaching Activities
Poaching and wildlife trafficking has become a serious global threat. Reported as being ranked in the top five largest international crime syndicates in the world, wildlife trafficking is valued at being between a $7 billion and $10 billion a year illegal industry. Poachers, who once operated in two or three man teams armed with only a rifle, are now operating as part of elaborate organized crime networks being supplied with military grade weapons and technology, counterfeit documents and licenses, and assisted by corrupt government officials who aid in the illegal trafficking of animal parts in and out of countries on the black market. Poaching is prevalent in countries with weak and corrupt governments and fosters criminal activity aiding in civil unrest while expanding networks of corrupt officials. Poaching also directly aids rebels, militias and terrorists weakening international security. In addition to security matters, poaching is threatening the extinction of endangered wildlife species, causing detrimental effects on the ecosystem and biodiversity, introducing zoonotic diseases and impeding wildlife tourism.
In the 1970s and 1980s the demand for ivory in the United States alone was rampant. Over 80% of all the raw ivory came from poached elephants. In 1979 1.3 million elephants were accounted for; significantly lower than the estimated 10 million that lived in the 1900s. By 1989 elephants numbered only 600,000. This decline was due to the rise in demand from a new market, Asia. That year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned international trade in ivory and it seemed to protect the elephant population for a time which rebounded growing to almost 1 million. However, in 1999 and again in 2008, CITES allowed two sanctioned sales of ivory and the elephant population was once again devastated. Today elephants are still in critical danger of survival. Trafficking in species like elephants and rhinos has doubled since 2007. According to Hilary Clinton’s speech during a White House Forum on September 10, 2013, 96 elephants are killed each day. Roughly 30,000 elephants were killed in 2012 alone and South Africa may lose up to 1000 rhinos this year, a world record from previous years in which approximately 20 rhinos a year were poached on average. The global demand for wildlife parts has increased so much that white rhinos horns can be worth as much as $2,000 an ounce and elephant ivory tusks as much as $1000 a pound. According to the Wildlife Conservation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge website, “By early October, there have been 730 rhinos poached in South Africa during 2013 – a dramatic rise over the past few years. Experts blame the dramatic increase in affluent populations in Asia, where rhino horn has become a designer commodity; $19 billion in the black market trade in 2012.”
The poaching of tigers, elephants, rhinos, gorillas and other wildlife is growing at a rapid rate. Why? Because the risk of wildlife trafficking doesn’t outweigh the gain, and unbelievably enough, there is still a market for wildlife parts. The penalty for getting caught poaching or illegally trafficking wildlife is not stringent enough to deter this illegal activity, at the moment anyway, and the demand from the Asian market for wildlife parts for their alleged healing properties is anything but diminishing, especially with Asia’s increased economic growth.
The thousands of dollars earned from selling tusks and horns on the black market, does not just fuel the greed of poachers, it provides them with first rate technology to help them in their hunt. Underpaid, under-trained and ill equipped park rangers are up against poachers armed with night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles. According to the Executive Order – Combating Wildlife Trafficking, signed by President Obama on July 1, 2013, “Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates.” This Executive Order established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, as well as an advisory council on the issue. The Department of State will provide an additional $10 million in regional and bilateral training and technical assistance to African nations to combat wildlife trafficking, with Kenya and South Africa.
Executive Order — Combating Wildlife Trafficking
Section 1. Policy. The poaching of protected species and the illegal trade in wildlife and their derivative parts and products (together known as “wildlife trafficking”) represent an international crisis that continues to escalate. Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates. The survival of protected wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna, and turtles has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations. Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security. Also, the prevention of trafficking of live animals helps us control the spread of emerging infectious diseases. For these reasons, it is in the national interest of the United States to combat wildlife trafficking.
With the world up in arms over the devastation in endangered wildlife species, the scientific and conservation communities have been exploring a new technology to safely spot, track and capture poachers in dense, vast, harsh terrain, under the cover of night. This technology is widely used for the same reasons by militaries in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Damien Mander, a former Special Operations Sniper and Clearance Diver in the Australian Defense Force, and founder and CEO of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, is bringing drone technology to conservation. “the drone locates the dying embers of a poacher’s campfire in the early hours of the morning. A radio call from Simon relays the position and Derek prepares his ground units for deployment. Stalking through the bush towards the target I wonder to myself how long it would have taken to locate this well hidden camp without the drone. Weapons raised, the raiding line closes the final 50 meters silently and takes the camp by surprise just after 5 am. A week earlier, a similar raid ended in a fire-fight with one ranger shot through the shoulder and one wounded poacher fleeing back to Tanzania.”
At present, South Africa, Nepal and Canada are using UAVs, sometimes referred to as ecology drones or conservations drones, to track and monitor the safety of wildlife. The benefits of using anti poaching drones – UAVs, autonomously controlled or remote controlled, in anti-poaching activities are numerous. It is low cost, environmentally friendly, technologically capable and safer than a piloted aircraft; especially if poachers have any surface to air missiles or rockets to their arsenal. Employing UAV technology at an approximate $3000 – $5000 per UAV, offers a safe way to operate the skies for long, monotonous hours at night, using radar and infrared technology to locate and track the positions of illegal poachers over harsh un-navigable terrain that have illegally encroached onto protected park grounds and conservation areas. The UAVs are able to feed live intelligence back to the operators, in this case park rangers, on the location and movement of poachers. The mere knowledge of the presence of anti-poaching drones in the sky will itself aid in deterring poaching activity. Collaborating with scientific and technological communities, universities, militaries and governments, the manufacture of drones will hopefully provide national parks with affordable technology along with training to park rangers so they can effectively utilize this new technology in protecting wildlife.
Since 2010, South Africa’s Kruger National Park Kruger Park, the flagship park of the South African National Park (SANParks), has lost 50% of its rhinos to poaching. Kashmir-Robotics (K-bot), a division of Al-Kareem Foundation, is currently providing aircraft and terrain robots to protect endangered wildlife. With growing worldwide awareness of illegal poaching activities and wildlife trafficking, K-bot is hosting the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge to design and manufacture low cost UAVs that can be deployed in the bush and operate over the rugged terrain of Kruger for hours at a time, equipped with sensors able to detect and locate poachers, and communications able to relay accurate and timely intelligence to park rangers so they can deploy to the location of the poachers and capture them before they kill wildlife. The Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge is partnered with NOVA Labs, SANParks, Global Unmanned Systems, the Reserve Protection Agency, Solid Concepts, Design Intelligence Incorporated LLC, and the University of Maryland. The entry form for the UAV challenge is available on their website, http://www.wcuavc.com/challenge.html, until October 21, 2014. The entry deadline is January 5, 2014.
It is a highly unlikely scenario that we (governments, conservationists, etc.) will change a culture’s mindset thwarting consumer sales of rhino horns or elephant ivory tusks or deter poaching activities in countries with civil unrest and corruption without harsher tactics and more stringent punitive measures. “Our penalties are not significant enough for wildlife crimes,” said David Hayes, the former deputy secretary of the Interior Department. A global shift is happening where countries are starting to increase fines and jail time for wildlife traffickers. Japan is rising their jail time for wildlife traffickers from one year, or a fine of JPY1 million (US$10,400), to five years, or a fine of JPY5 million (US$52,000). Kenya is currently raising the fines for illegal poaching of elephants and rhinos from 40,000 shillings to 10 million Kenyan shillings ($114,351) and increasing jail time from 10 years to 15 years. A government minister in Tanzania is instituting a shoot to kill policy against poachers. Although this policy is causing an uprising in human rights activists, make no mistake poachers will take human lives that interfere with their criminal activity just as carelessly as they do the lives of endangered species.
Knowing that poachers are equipped with high tech equipment, counterfeit documentation and are more heavily armed ready to shoot to kill, wildlife and humans alike, providing an unmanned eye-in-the-sky provides a safe, adept countermeasure to catching and capturing these illegal wildlife slaughterers before our wildlife population becomes extinct.
More here at ATACOperations.com