With the Kasane Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade about to begin in Botswana, part of the answer to rampant poaching may lie in drones. Jim Drury reports.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS GRAPHIC MATERIAL Scenes like these are increasingly common. South African poachers have killed almost 3,000 rhinos since 2008 and campaigners fear the species could become extinct. But engineers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona say they can help. UPSOT: DRONE With local drone firm HEMAV they've invented the Keros 1, which team member Arnau Garcia says is an effective anti-poaching solution in large national parks. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) HEMAV ACADEMIC TEAM MEMBER ARNAU GARCIA, SAYING: "Right now national parks have two big problems. The first is detecting rhinos and non-authorised people. That's been done with helicopters and planes until now, but that's very expensive. Also, you can't see people who hide under trees from a plane. We solve this with thermal cameras, like we see here. Every pixel has a different colour depending on how hot it is. This is placed on the drone, it takes a picture and reports directly to the ranger." Made of styrofoam, the drones can fly in 50 kilometre-per-hour winds, and have a one-hour battery life. Despite a cost upwards of 10,000 dollars per drone, HEMAV innovation manager Carlos Ferraz says it's cheaper than other anti-poaching methods. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) HEMAV INNOVATION MANAGER CARLOS FERRAZ, SAYING: "With the money national parks spend on a three-month helicopter rental, we could fill the air with drones, and use technology better. Monitoring the perimeter of an area can require two or three-man crews. But if we placed drones in specific parts of the park we could achieve full monitoring of the park in just a few hours or minutes." HEMAV are in talks with national parks in Africa, South America, and Asia, and plan to design models to fit individual parks' needs. The firm wants delegates at this week's Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Botswana to look to the skies in its bid to curb poaching.