WHERE WE HAVE FLOWN
The Province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa is home to multiple rhino reserves, under the management of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo). Combined, these reserves are the custodians of approximately 2,500 rhinos. The region possesses the rhino population with the farthest reaching genetic pool. In order to ensure the viability of future populations, the protection of rhino from this region is of critical importance and will impact on all future population growth efforts.
From an operational perspective, Ezemvelo is the ideal environment in which to utilize new technologies such as UAVs to enhance anti-poaching efforts, as rhino and other wildlife populations are contained within multiple small and manageable conservation areas.
Ezemvelo, in association with Peace Parks Foundation, has for the past couple of years deployed drones on a trial basis to test the capability of an assortment of UAV technologies as instruments to support anti-poaching operations in varying environmental and operational conditions. So far the project has had positive impact, and the presence of UAVs in the reserves has been instrumental in disrupting illegal activities in general.
Air Shepherd is committed to Ezemvelo and Peace Parks Foundation, combining years of experience and skills in a collaborative effort and maximizing the use of drone technology at the frontlines of the poaching war.
The protection of rhino from this region is of critical importance and will affect all future population growth efforts.
A History of UAVs in EKZNW
In 2012, with the onset of the rapid increase in wildlife crime and specifically rhino poaching, EKZNW entered into an agreement with a service provider to undertake a pilot rhino security aerial surveillance and monitoring project using UAVs. The main objective was to reduce rhino poaching attempts and provide effective protection of the Hluhluwe, iMfolozi Park (HiP) rhino population.
This project continued for a period of two years, and the mortality statistics from start to termination of the project clearly showed a significant decrease in poaching mortalities: a 65% reduction in rhino poaching compared to the previous year. Since that time UAV tactics have been upgraded resulting in no poaching deaths in any area where drones were flying in the last six months.
The decrease in poaching is greatly attributed to the presence of drones in the park, combined with other strategic law enforcement and monitoring projects and operations.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is home to around 65% of the world’s rhinos, and with the high price of rhino horn in foreign markets, devastatingly this means that Kruger is also home to around 60% of the rhino poaching victims in South Africa.
To save rhino, it is imperative to focus on Kruger, which has become the epicenter of the war on poaching.
One of the great challenges for Kruger is attributed to its boundaries, extending from South Africa in the south to Mozambique in the north. Heavily armed poachers cross national boundaries into Kruger from Mozambique to pursue their criminal activities, and make their escape by crossing back over these same borders. It has been estimated that there can be up to as many as 12 gangs in the park at any time.
To combat wildlife trafficking, and in an effort to begin stabilizing rhino populations, drone operations over Kruger National Park have given Air Shepherd and its partners a unique advantage, as well as the notable ability to make a very real and measurable difference in favor of rhinos.
Specifically at Kruger, the scientific effectiveness of drone use in anti-poaching applications is being evaluated, which will give our partners the unique distinction of being the only operational team with recognition from both the scientific community, as well as government, that our operations are effective.
Many countries are calling for help
The poaching problem is widespread, and the word is getting out about our success. Across Africa, multiple nations have already approached our team asking for help to develop anti-poaching programs. Agreements, approvals, contracts within each country are at varying points of being cleared for take-off.
Most countries require multiple Air Shepherd teams to fully cover all of the opportunities that are being presented to us. As a result, we will require 45-50 teams, which is our mid-range goal: to rapidly proliferate our capability across Africa and dramatically reduce big-time poaching.