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Could Drones Help Save Rhinos in South Africa?



Since 2008, hunters have illegally killed more than 3,000 rhinos in South Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature warns that rhinos may disappear by 2026.

People who hunt and kill illegally are called poachers. The most effective way to watch for illegal hunting is from the air. But piloted flights are costly. Now, some Spanish college students have designed a drone that can look for poachers. And the drone can observe more places than a plane or helicopter.

Arnau Garcia is an aeronautical engineering student at the Polytechnic Institute of Catalonia, in Spain. He says observers from air have trouble finding poachers when they hide under the trees.

Mr. Garcia and other students have worked with the drone manufacturer HEMAV to help them find the hidden poachers. They do this by using thermal cameras, which are sensitive to body heat.

Mr. Garcia and his team members designed a drone made with styrofoam and an electric motor. The drone can fly in winds up to 55 kilometers per hour. It has an autopilot system, so it memorizes the flight path. The drone also has microphones, cameras and a GPS system. This permits it to report exactly where a picture was taken.

After each flight, drones bring back information about where rhinos were found, the conditions of water and vegetation in the area, and the positions of suspected poachers.

Carlos Ferraz works at HEMAV. Mr. Ferraz says drones can fly 90 kilometers per hour and as far as 70 kilometers from their base. He says that means that they could quickly observe large areas for poachers. He says the same search operation would take days for human observer.

And, Mr. Ferraz notes cost effectiveness with drone use. He says South African national park officials could fill the air with drones for the same cost as renting one helicopter.

I’m Caty Weaver.

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Words in This Story

poacher - n. someone who catches or hunts animals illegally

dronen. a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft

styrofoam - n. a type of light and usually white plastic

GPS - n. a radio system that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and to give you directions to other places (short for Global Positioning System)

rentv. to pay money in return for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else)

Are their poachers where you live? Would you like to see drones being used to stop illegal animal killings in your country? We want to know what you think. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

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