From the recent spate of deaths in the wild, it would seem the war against poaching is far from over. This is despite numerous measures to combat the vice.
Interventions by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) through a wildlife analytic tool kit or the new forensic laboratory by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) or the training of an additional 4,900 KWS rangers to increase park coverage have not significantly reversed the trend.
Experts say this recent increase in smuggled game and game products like ivory is fuelled chiefly by the 9-year moratorium in 2008 when China received the go-ahead from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to buy non-poached ivory from some African nations. This moratorium expires in 2017.
More than 80 elephants, 5 rhinos and an unknown number of other species have been killed in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the last 3 years, reported an article in the Daily Nation of January 2013.
But a new method of fighting poachers has now been introduced in the 90,000 acre Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy. The innovative approach, which will be the first of its kind in Kenya.
Using an unmanned aircraft or drone equipped with a camera to track white rhinos and other threatened animals in the conservancy with the help of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, the conservancy hopes to write a different story of conservation. American-based, UASUSA Tempest, will be the drone supplier.
Drones have been used in South Africa, where the largest rhino population in the world lives, to curb the rapid decimation of its population in the Kruger National Park. The KES 2 million (USD 24,000) plane can cover an 80 KM range and stay airborne for about 2 hours before needing a change of batteries.
Besides being a hugely cost-effective way of patrolling the conservancy as opposed to the use of manned planes, the drone will be able to offer the rare opportunity of a virtual safari experience through real-time satellite images taken of the conservancy as it does its surveillance rounds.
The joint effort between KWS and the conservancy marks a new chapter in the history of conservation in Kenya and becomes the first such initiative in the world to work towards protecting the endangered white rhino using drones.
So far the Ol Pejeta Conservancy has raised USD 15,000 of the total plane cost through a joint campaign with Indiegogo, the crowdfunding giant, christened ‘Help Deploy an Aerial Ranger to Ol Pejeta’.