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Drones Help Rangers Fight Poachers


A Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania.

A Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania.


Africa's fight against poaching is often described as a war. Illegal killing is on the rise, fueled by growing Asian demand for ivory and rhino horn. Experts estimate that more than 35,000 African elephants are killed every year. And rhino poaching is thought to have reached its highest levels.

African conservationists no longer rely on simple foot patrols. South Africa is already using surveillance drones to monitor its wildlife in national parks. Kenya plans to do the same. The fight against poaching is a modern war, and it is becoming increasingly high-tech.

A small white airplane, the DT26, flies into the skies over the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. The plane is a drone, and its designers hope it will soon be used to catch poachers.

Mike Chambers runs Bathawk Recon, the company that made the drone. He says that right now, Tanzania's rangers do not have the resources even to keep up with poachers.

"With a quarter of a million square kilometers of protected area, it's impossible with the budget that Tanzania has to cover that area effectively. Resources available to rangers just aren't going to be able to do it, especially at the moment, where the resources for poachers are rising because of the international demands."

Mike Chambers says his drones cover large areas that otherwise would be impossible to watch. Drones are a technological tool that can greatly reduce poaching and give park officials more help.

"Drones give a multiplier effect to rangers. If we can cover four or five thousand square kilometers with a pod of drones, then fewer rangers are needed to cover that area because they can be organized as a reaction force, and to go where we have found the incidents to be occurring."

In neighboring Kenya, the wildlife service is focusing on genetics to strengthen legal cases against poachers. Last month the service opened a lab in Nairobi where suspected bush meat can be identified.

Philip Muruthi is Chief Scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation. He says that along with ivory poaching, illegal bush meat hunting is also reducing Kenya's wildlife population. Until now charging those who hunt or catch game illegally has been difficult. Poachers often claim giraffe or zebra meat is beef, and proving otherwise can be difficult.

"Often law enforcers in the wildlife area lose their cases because they cannot authenticate. They can't prove in a court of law that that which they are using as an exhibit is actually prohibited wildlife material."

Muruthi says the new lab should be able to tell the kind of animal the meat comes from. The lab also will be able to provide a genetic database of Kenya's endangered animals. The information can help charge ivory and rhino horn poachers.

"When you find samples from anywhere in the world you can take those samples and match them to your database, and be able to say where the confiscated item comes from. So if you are trying to nail somebody in a court of law, you can say, well, this is something that you are trafficking illegally."

Conservationists point out that technology is only as good as the people behind it. They say that Africa's endangered animals still depend on the political will to protect them. That desire, they say, is sometimes lacking.

I’m Marsha James.

Correspondent Hilary Heuler reported this story from Nairobi. Marsha James adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

poacher(s)n. people who kill or take wild animals illegally

podn. a part that can be separated from the main part

authenticate v. to prove that something is real, true or genuine

prohibit v. to say something is not allowed

databasen. a collection of pieces of information that is organized and used on a computer

confiscate v. to to take something away from someone, especially as punishment or to enforce the law or rules

nailv. to catch someone doing something illegal or wrong

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