The program actually officially launched last month, but it is now ramping up more fully. The Air Shepard program uses drones that are capable of flying at night, and spotting poachers operating in the field using infrared cameras and GPS thermal imaging. This gives ranges operating in protected areas the chance to spot poachers – who usually conduct operations under the cover of night – before they can locate the animals they are searching for.
So how effective has the program been? Operating in one area that was experiencing up to 19 rhinos killed each month, that number has now been dropped to zero. Over a six month period of testing and collecting data, that location has seen no deaths at all. That's a fantastic reversal of fortunes for areas where poaching is common.
Right now, the Air Shepherd program is operating the Province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, which is home to more than 2500 wild rhinos. Perhaps more importantly however, it is also home to the deepest genetic pool of rhinos as well, which could be crucial for rebuilding the species in the years to come.
This great program combines two things that I'm passionate about technology – specifically drones – and wildlife conservation in Africa. Poaching is a horrible practice, and it is quickly pushing some important species to the brink of extinction. If we don't do anything to prevent this practice, elephants and rhinos will disappear from the wild. Having seen these creatures in their natural setting, that saddens me. Fortunately, this program is proving to be very effective. Hopefully we'll see it rolled out to other areas in the near future. Find out more in the video below.