Monitoring Cyanide Poisoning in Zimbabwe
Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd Announces Operations in Zimbabwe Will Increase to Monitor Cyanide Poisoning of Elephant Watering Holes
Several more elephants have recently been killed with cyanide in Hwange National Park—funds raised via Indiegogo campaign will help support additional Air Shepherd teams
Berkeley Springs, WV—October 25, 2016—The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd program, developed to protect elephants and rhinos from poaching by using drones, today announced that Air Shepherd drone teams will increase patrols to look for poachers during the day who are poisoning watering holes in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. The operations are part of Air Shepherd’s collaboration with WWF.
Air Shepherd teams typically fly drones at night when poachers operate under the cover of darkness. In Zimbabwe, where watering holes are being poisoned with cyanide, Air Shepherd teams will now also monitor during the day looking for any human activity near watering holes. The drones allow more land to be patrolled than what can be covered by on-the-ground park rangers. Suspicious activity picked up by Air Shepherd drone operators is reported to park rangers who will then intercept the criminals.
Running rivers in Hwange National Park have not existed in more than 100 years and during the dry season there is no water other than what is pumped in by the park. This creates a unique situation where elephants then congregate around these 60-80 watering holes making them easy targets—other animals are collateral damage as the poisoning lays waste to whole ecosystems. Once a watering hole is poisoned, all a poacher has to do is quietly wait for elephants to die an agonizing death before hacking off its tusks. It is likely in some cases that the elephants are still alive when tusks are removed.
Experts believe this method of killing will continue to grow because it is “not noisy” and cyanide is easy to come by as it is used in the gold mining industry which is prevalent in Africa.
“Historically, there has been little ability for anti-poaching operations to work at night,” said Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg, head of drone operations for Air Shepherd. “You can’t see tracks, it’s difficult to see people and it’s dangerous because the anti-poaching teams can walk onto elephants, rhinos or buffaloes. Our night-time operations change the game in favor of the elephants and in the case of Zimbabwe we are in a unique position to help monitor the park during the day to spot poachers who are using cyanide.”
The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd program is unprecedented and is proving to be highly effective with drone teams having flown in South Africa and currently in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Air Shepherd drones run by UAV and Drone Solutions, Lindbergh Foundation’s principal partner—use a sensing device with thermal imaging allowing operations at night when poachers operate. The electric drones fly at distances of up to 40 km for missions that last up to three and a half hours allowing for maximum land coverage. Due to drone regulations around the world, very few are allowed to fly beyond the line of site—Air Shepherd teams are licensed to do so.
Anyone wanting to help fund this effort should visit the Indiegogo campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/at/as16