Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Drone enters the war against rhino poachers

PHOTO | FILE Tourists at the Ol Pejeta conservancy take a closer look at a white rhino.

PHOTO | FILE Tourists at the Ol Pejeta conservancy take a closer look at a white rhino. The conservancy has acquired a drone for use in the battle against poaching.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JAMES KARIUKI [email protected]

Kenya is set to get its first pilotless plane for use in preventing poachers from killing the last seven northern white rhinos in a Laikipia County conservancy.

A month-long international campaign by renowned fund-raising site, Indiegogo, raised Sh3.9 million to buy the pilotless plane, also known as a drone, for use in the world famous Ol Pejeta conservancy.

Drones were first used for military purposes in Iraq with the technology being later introduced in countries such as Japan by security firms to monitor the homes of the affluent and big corporates.

The management at the 90,000-acre privately owned conservancy said the drone would help them protect the remaining northern white rhinos and other endangered species. (Editorial: We must safeguard our wildlife heritage)

The 1.6kg plane is fitted with surveillance cameras linked to a command centre via satellite to monitor unwanted movement in the ranch.

Ol Pejeta said on its website the drone was bought from US company UASUSA Tempest at minimal cost while another US firm, Unmanned Innovation, will launch it and provide equipment for the ground-based control room.

The drone, dubbed the “aerial ranger” will also allow people all over the world to take a virtual safari to a wildlife conservancy via satellite, with real-time pictures. (Read: War against poaching goes hi-tech)

Indiegogo said the campaign was a huge success. It said willing donors could “adopt” an animal that will bear a radio frequency identity tag which will enable them to monitor “their” animal as it roams the ranch.

The northern white rhinos were relocated from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic after conservationists identified Laikipia’s climate and well-protected sanctuaries as the most favourable breeding conditions to save the species from extinction.

Ol Pejeta has East Africa’s largest black rhino population of 88 and 11 southern rhino under the watch of 120 rangers and an aerial crew.

Rhinos are under threat in Kenya and other African countries due to a huge demand for their horns in China.

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