A Perfect Equation:
Drones with Night Vision + Powerful Computers =
Carefully tested drone operations provide us with a huge advantage over any other approach to stopping poaching in Africa.
Poachers operate under the cover of night, and until now, rangers have not had an effective way of finding them before they strike. Operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with infrared cameras and GPS thermal imaging – of both animals and poachers – is sent back to the mobile command center. Operators rapidly forward location coordinates that will vector rangers into position, who arrive in advance, and intercept poachers before they strike. The animals walk away!
It works. Flying in one area where as many as 19 rhinos were killed each month, there have been no deaths – for more than six months – none at all.
The Air Shepherd approach is the only intervention that has been shown to literally stop poaching. We have a well-established track record, along with demonstrable proof that our drone program works. With an investment of US$ 2 million, tested over two years, 1200+ hours of flight time logged, we now say with confidence – where we fly, poaching stops!
We have assembled a world-class combination of sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, with sophisticated predictive analytical capabilities, plus a number of dedicated, well constituted organizations, teams on the ground, and work in close cooperation with respected reserve management organizations to launch a global effort that will staunch the horrible losses on the African continent.
We look for poachers using various analytical, predictive capabilities to determine animal behavior patterns (rhinos are quite different from elephants), as well as those of poachers. We use this proven analytical tool to predict where the threat to animals will come from, and then launch small drones with cameras to fly over these areas searching for the arrival of the poachers. Once potential poachers are identified, prepositioned rangers are directed to intercept the suspects before they have a chance to kill an animal.
The aircraft appear to be big model airplanes, but they carry high resolution cameras for both daylight and nighttime infrared scanning, since most poaching is done at night. Hand launched, from operating altitude they can easily tell the difference between animals and humans, and send that real-time information back to the operating team on the ground. These electric aircraft fly for over 1.5 hours, they are clean, stealthy and can provide an eye-in-the-sky capability focusing on the paths where poachers will most likely be that evening.
In addition to infrared cameras, drones are equipped with GPS, autopilots, and data transmitting capability. With only a 6 ft. wingspan, they are autonomously controlled, able to see activity on the ground in real time, and can potentially transmit anywhere in world. In a nutshell, they are electric, silent, invisible, and effective!
HOW IT WORKS
1. Drone Aircraft
Air Shepherd is drone agnostic – we want the best aircraft that we can find for the job at hand. Drone design is advancing very quickly so we are constantly evaluating different platforms and we have designed our approach to be adaptable to the most capable emerging technology.
Currently, based on testing in various environments, our partners in South Africa fly custom designed UAV’s that include fixed wing and multi-rotor airframes of varying capability.
All drones are electric and have about a two hour operating cycle. Advances in battery technology are rapidly increasing the possibilities for extending these applications.
2. Airborne Sensors
3. Aerial Command Center
Only technologically sophisticated capabilities can provide the mobility and discrimination to effectively determine what is really going on in the African bush at night. The mobile command center is a support vehicle which includes:
- Remote controlled aircraft and avionics
- A variety of mounted cameras to accommodate day and night (infrared) surveillance
- Accessories such as antennae, batteries and trackers
- Radio and communication systems
- Support services such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping, database capacity and recording software
- Monitoring equipment and software
- Spare parts and maintenance tools
- Support services for the crew such as tents, beds, rations, etc.
4. Highly Trained Operators
The field crew includes at least a pilot and a systems operator, both of whom are highly trained in these specialized operations. The pilot is responsible for all of the physical aspects of the drone – launching, recovering, navigation, maintenance, etc. The systems operator monitors the streaming video, analyzing what is happening in the area where the aircraft is flying, communicating with rangers, recording data feeds, etc. Operating these aircraft effectively requires four months of training before individual crew members can be sent into the field on their own.
WHERE WE FLY
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.