Google Earth, drones protect Kenya's elephants

How do you combat rising poacher numbers? Get in the sky.

Safari parks, private game reserves and conservationists are buying drones en masse to battle elephant poaching around the Maasai Mara National Park.

Elephant ivory consistently rises in price, and can sell for thousands of dollars a kilogram in Asian countries, where is it used for luxury goods, jewellery and medicine. Now considered the modern blood diamond, the illegal trade has resulted in a surge of poaching -- as a single tusk can sell for far more than the annual salary of the average person on the African continent.

To prevent poachers having their way, conservationists around the reserve, including Marc Goss, are turning to technology. An iPad, $300 AR drones, night-vision googles and the Google Earth satellite system are all playing a part in trying to keep dwindling elephant populations going.

When Goss started using his drones, he thought they would be useful in providing aerial footage to track poachers armed with guns. However, he discovered that the drone's sound scared the animals, which could be used to frighten them away from harm.

"We realized very quickly that the elephants hated the sound of them," said Goss. "I'm assuming that they think it's a swarm of bees."

In addition, Goss and his team have equipped their elephant herd with GPS systems, so their locations can be tracked via Google Earth. If the elephants move in to known poaching areas or human conflict, the drones can then be used to turn their paths.

The conservationist hopes to purchase an additional ten drones, and equip them with sprayers of capsaicin -- a component in chilli pepper -- so they can remotely spray to deter elephants from dangerous areas.

James Hardy, a fourth-generation Kenyan and manager of the Mara North Conservancy told Bloomberg:

"Drones are basically the future of conservation; a drone can do what 50 rangers can do. It's going to reach a point where drones are on the forefront of poaching. At night time we could use it to pick up heat signatures of poachers, maybe a dead elephant if we're quick enough."

Via: Bloomberg

Image credit: Flickr

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