2012 has seen a terrifying record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns in Africa, although some argue that the figure could be closer to 1,000, a significant dent in a population of around 20,000. Clearly, more needs to be done to reduce the demand for horn in the Far East, some even argue that legalising the trade in horn will help, but others believe that more radical solutions are needed against poachers.
One such plan, by Clive Vivier, a rhino farmer in Zululand, South Africa, is to use state-of-the-art surveillance drones, designed for the US military, to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.
The unmanned Arcturus T-20 can fly for 16 hours without refueling, at a height of 15,000 feet. Its lack of noise and infrared camera would be invaluable for spotting poachers at night. “It can tell whether a man is carrying a shovel or firearm and whether he has his finger on the trigger or not,” said Vivier, 65. “We can see the poacher but he can’t see us. We’re good at arresting them when we know where they are. Otherwise it’s a needle in a haystack.”
Clive Vivier said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the Arcturus T-20 drone, and he has spent two years in talks with civil aviation officials in South Africa, and is hopeful that he will soon get the green light for a six-month trial. He proposes 10 of the drones for Kruger park (where two thirds of the poaching has occurred), and a further 20 for other vulnerable reserves in South Africa.
Ike Phaahla, a spokesman for South African National Parks, welcomed moves to put eyes in the sky. “In the past three months that is a strategy we have decided to use,” he said. “We are able to use the intelligence to intercept the poachers, although you can’t have a silver bullet for this kind of thing.”
After the worst rhino poaching year on record in South Africa, air technology is seen as a crucial preventative step.
(Based on article by David Smith, the Guardian)