Poaching continues to be one of the biggest threats to wildlife in Africa but that won’t be the case for long if a team of scientists get the funding they need for a project.
The Air Shephard project was started by The Lindbergh Foundation in partnership with The University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and aims to use drones linked to a supercomputer to protect animals, specifically elephants and rhinos, from poachers.
The drones fly at night since, according to the group, most poaching happens between 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm.
“Every day, our University of Maryland supercomputer based predictive software will analyze all of the historical data we have about a particular game park (poaching locations, times, weather specifics, environmental conditions, ingress and egress routes, topographical constraints, ranger availability and mobility, etc.),” explains the project’s IndieGogo page. “Then we’ll develop an assessment of where the high-probability locations are that should be monitored. They’ll produce flight plans for our drones, to tell them where to go and then ship them by email or satellite straight to the field. When a potential poacher is spotted, drone operators radio the location to nearby rangers who intercept and capture the poachers.”
The group has been quietly testing out the technology for two years in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where under the management of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo), over 2,500 rhinos live. While other research groups have flown drones with the intent of halting poachers, the Air Shephard has been the one who’s done it the longest and with most clear results. Since their trial started, in an area where up to 19 rhinos were being killed a month, none died during the six months the drones flew there. The poaching stopped.
With all of that success, seven other countries in Africa have now reached out to the group asking for their help, which means it needs to put together 45 to 50 teams to cover all the areas. That effort comes with a price, though, so the scientists are asking for people’s help in raising the money to grow their operation.
In an IndieGogo campaign, the group is asking for $500,000, the costs of “the daily operation of an existing drone team in South Africa for a full year: (3 aircraft, mobile ground control station vehicle, ground control technologies, two operators)” but goals to be accomplished if more money is raised are also outlined.
As all of these crowd funded campaigns go, there are gifts to be earned for donations. Benefits of helping the cause include African fair trade made napkins for a $35 donation, your name on a drone for $100 donated and a variety of other gifts that culminate with an afternoon of doing flying aerobatic maneuvers with world renowned stunt pilot Sean Tucker for those who donate $25,000. There’s also the bragging rights to future generations on helping save the majestic creatures from extinction.