Tag Archives: proposed method

AWF Launches Anti-Poaching Fund!

On the 4th December, a $10 million fund has been announced by the African Wildlife Foundation to be put into targeting poachers. Craig Sholley, the organisation’s vice president for marketing and philanthropy has said that the fund will be used in specific ways: Stop the Killing, Stop the Trafficking, and Stop the Demand.

  • Stop The Killing: Designed to address the poaching occurring on the ground in Africa
  • Stop The Trafficking: Money being put into stopping the illegal wildlife trafficking happening across the country borders and out of the continent.
  • Stop The Demand: Designed to target the large markets in Asian countries

With the money and attention also being put into technology and scientific measures that could be put in place to cut down on poaching, I think this is a really good step forward. It might be the opinion of some that the money could be spent in better situations, such as going towards dealing with the Ebola outbreak currently still raging through Africa… but as money does not work like that, and the funds that a country has have to be split up in certain ways, this is the best of times (in fact, potentially the only possible time) for money to be involved. There is still time left at the moment to make a difference, after all. And making a difference is what is really needed.

The African Wildlife Foundation said about 35,000 elephants are killed every year by poachers. (Credit: AWF)

Photo Credit: AWF

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Could there soon be an ‘eye in the sky’ to work against poachers?

It’s highly possible that technology could potentially become a secure line of defense against the poaching crisis occurring in Africa, replacing sniffer dogs and GPS tagged rangers currently in force protecting the targeted animals.

A Kenyan reserve specializing in protecting black and white rhinos teamed up with Airware, the San Francisco based tech company, with the intent on creating unmanned drones designed to fly above the 90,000 acres of protected land to keep watch for illegal poaching activity. Developed astonishingly quickly in light of the recent revelation on just how badly he effect of poaching is spreading, the Kenyan Wildlife service gave the combined organisations the blessing to run a 10-day trial in July, 2014, and the results were a pleasing success, even when at one point during the testing a loss of communication occurred with the aircraft (following which, the drone returned back to its launch site with no hassle at all).

Less than a meter in wing length, and able to fly up to 500 feet, the drones are equipped with both a high definition camera and thermal imaging, and fly silently to avoid disturbing both the wildlife and the tourists which support the economy in this area of Africa.

While the trial was deemed a success, it has been admitted that more work needs to be done. The control and the function of the drones works well, but money and research is being put into developing the frame of the aircraft (so it is able to withstand the changing conditions of the African climate), as well as battery life. Currently the smaller drones have a battery life of 30-90 minutes; not long enough for the larger game reserves.

A problem though would be that larger surveillance drones, with longer ranges, are too expensive for most game researches (costing upwards of $250,000 per unit), but the opinions of those involved are that this is a good step forward. A cyber eye in the sky would be a good line of defense against the poaching threat.

UN surveillance drone

A long range surveillance drone (BBC images).

There are some theories that they may also be designed to include an alarm system, despite reservations on the matter; enabling them to, if they locate a potenial poacher, automatically sound an alarm to both alert the authorities and any tourists within the vicinity, and to scare wildlife out of harms range.

Despite the opinion of some being that an alarm would damage the tourist industry and potentially harm the animals, it is the opinion of other’s that both rhinos and elephants are better ‘scared than dead’… and as 1,000 rangers have been killed by poachers in the last 10 years, the early warning system could potentially help reduce human causalities as well.

(To read the full story and extra information on this development, see the BBC news article.)

Is this the right step forward?

In my opinion? Yes. Technology is one of the main causes of the rise in the illegal poaching industry, and in fact the illegal animal trafficking operations, in the last decade. Especially with advances such as the internet, oversea communications and the arrangements of illegal shippings is a lot easier to organise now than it was before the ban on African ivory in the 1970s. But thanks to modern advancements, such as those detailed here and others besides, I think that technology could be the most likely option available for saving what Rhinos and Elephants there are left. If the money and the time and the resources can continue to be thrown into working in areas such as technology development, there is potentially a good chance that the war on blood ivory will turn out less bloody for all involved.

After all, not only do the drones, acoustic traps and mobile technology developments offer security for the elephants and rhinos, but they also offer protection for other species in Africa and targeted areas too, and are being put into use elsewhere on the globe (a university in Florida is currently using drone technology to monitor alligator populations, for instance). Humans are protected too, as I’ve said above… to have more robotic eyes watching the grounds of Africa would reduce the number of humans caught in the crossfire.

Of course, I don’t think it’s the complete answer. Technology is one step on the ladder. In my opinion, in order for anything to actually change, awareness in all countries has to be raised (I may look into this actually, by interviewing my flatmates and seeing how much they, as scientists, know about the problem in Africa right now). There are troubles, of course; the main demand for ivory is now coming from China, where it is considered to be a cultural thing and is it is always hard to get rid of the need for something that has such a history in a countries culture. I believe that eventually it will be possible though… after all. It’s good to be optimistic. And while I have had the chance to work with Asian Elephants, I would love to work with African Elephants and have them unthreatened enough to feel safe while doing so (is that a selfish reason? Perhaps).

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Proposed Tusk Modifcation Methods of Poaching Reduction

I found these two links, both covering proposed methods of reducing poaching by modifying the tusks of the elephants being hunted. Both were accompanied with arguments for and against the proposed plans.

The first is thus: if poachers want tusks, why not remove the tusks of the elephants and rhinos so there is no reason why the poachers will hunt them? Expert Cynthia Moss shoots down the idea instantly, despite understanding the basis of taking away the source of the killing of these creatures. The number of wild elephants roaming Africa might be on the drastic decrease, but there are still too many out there for a proposed method such as this to be undertaken upon each and every one of them. Additionally, the cost of the procedure is too expensive, even if all of the elephants were in one area and able to be easily stunned in order for the operation to occur.

tusks

But most importantly, even if it were logistically possible, tusks are not easy to remove. An elephant tusk is a modified tooth, complete with nerves running all the way down them, which if cut incorrectly bring huge levels of pain to the wounded creature (as described here). A rhino’s horn is similar, and both have the habit of not fully healing after removal; an elephant’s tusk will regrow, while there is a case of a rhino having survived having their horn removed, only for the hole in their face never to fully heal.

Besides, elephants evolved tusks for a reason, and to remove them cripples their day to day activities. Everything from foraging to fighting would suddenly become a lot more difficult.

The second method face similar problems; one blog has suggested staining the tusks of the elephants with a harmless dye, in order to make the ivory worthless in the eyes of the illegal trade, even going as far as to propose a program for how such a thing would be carried out. Unfortunately, the number of elephants still roaming the wild of Africa makes this a logistically hard option to consider, despite the merited points that it raises.

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