Germany deploys drones to protect young deer from combine harvesters
Trial in Bavaria shows great promise in spotting fawns hiding in tall grass and alerting farmers doing spring mowing
Agence France-Presse in Berlin
theguardian.com, Friday 25 April 2014 18.02 BST
A German wildlife rescue project is deploying small aerial drones to find young deer hiding in tall grass and protect them from being shredded by combine harvesters cutting hay in spring.
According to project spokesman Rolf Stockum, the pilot scheme has shown great promise in spotting the young animals. About 100,000 of them fall victim in Germany every year to the large agricultural machines, he said on Friday.
Five small drones fitted with combined digital and infrared sensors that can detect colour patterns and body heat were trialled in the southern state of Bavaria.
When spotted the young deer are fitted with beacons that emit radio signals so that farmers, when they later do the spring mowing, can find and avoid them as they noisily rumble across the grasslands and fields.
Germany's agriculture ministry – which is backing the project with €2.5m (£2m) – this month alerted farmers to the threat as mild April weather ushered in the grass-mowing season in much of Germany.
According to Stockum, the problem was that deer often hide their fawns in tall fields near the edges of forests to protect them from natural predators.
"Evolution has created a very effective way to protect the fawns, which do not yet have a sense of smell – they instinctively stay exactly where they are placed," he said.
This made it very hard for farmers or even experienced wildlife trackers to spot the animals, leading to horrible accidents, said Stockum.
"Unfortunately, there are many years in which the time when meadows are cut in spring coincides with the time when deer drop their offspring … and then many animals lose their lives."
Stockum said this was also traumatic for the farmers and machine operators involved and, furthermore, polluted the cut grass, which was used as livestock feed, with shredded deer remains.
Farmers have in the past made visual inspections of grass areas or used trained dogs, and more recently many have employed hand-held infrared devices, to find the deer, said the spokesman.
However, Stockum said, using drones in co-ordinated campaigns with crowds of volunteers in the weeks before hay-cutting would cover far larger areas with greater accuracy and therefore save many more fawns' lives. AFP Berlin
*************Kenya to deploy drones in all national parks in bid to tackle poaching
Move follows a successful pilot project in major protected wildlife area that saw drones reduce poaching by up to 96%
Gitonga Njeru in Nairobi
theguardian.com, Friday 25 April 2014 11.49 BST
Kenya is to deploy drones in all of its 52 national parks and reserves in a bid to monitor and stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos.
The move by the government follows a successful pilot project in major protected wildlife area, that saw drones reduce poaching by up to 96%.
Kenya has lost more than 435 elephants and around 400 rhinos to poachers since 2012, driven by demand for illegal wildlife products in Asia and elsewhere. Poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants in 2014 so far.
Paul Udoto, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said: "Use of drones has shown that we can prevent poaching and arrest many poachers on their tracks. The pilot project has been a success and we are working with many partners including the Kenya police, the National Intelligence Service, and a lot of international partners such as Interpol, Ugandan and Tanzanian governments.".
He said he could not name which the park in the pilot took place, in case it changed poachers' tactics.
According to Udoto, the drones use radio frequencies to monitor the landscape and the movement of the animals. They are unmanned aircraft and remotely piloted in areas that are considered too risky for flight.
"The drones will have a capacity to spot the poachers before they even kill an animal. We have tried so many other security measures but they have failed us," Udoto said.
The drones will provide the rangers and other security personnel with 24-hour-a-day surveillance once in full force.
"With drones, you can keep aerial surveillance and monitor if there are any poaching activities. Poachers will be very scared and we believe arrests will be many based on the results of the pilot project. Enforcement will be much easier," Udoto said.
The $103m drone project is being funded partly by Kenya but also by the governments of the United States, Netherlands, France and Canada.
"Apart from drones, we are purchasing more equipment such as fire arms, bulletproof vests, and night equipment. We will also be training our rangers and recruiting new ones," said Udoto.
KWS currently has 975 rangers, a figure set to rise to 1,600 by the end of the year.
Separate to its own rangers, Udoto said KWS was training community rangers who are employed by both community and private ranches. "We have trained about 1,200 community rangers. We plan to reduce poaching activities in all the 52 national parks and wildlife protected areas around Kenya in the next few months." .
William Kiprono, KWS director, told the Guardian: "Poaching is a menace and we have realised something had to be done. That is why we decided to come up with the idea to use drones. This is a project that may even last a lifetime as long as poaching remains a problem and the global demand for wildlife products continues to increase."
Six senior KWS officials were placed on leave earlier this month after allegations by its founder, Richard Leakey, that the service had been infiltrated by people enriching themselves from poaching.
***************'Drones are changing the face of conservation'
The use of 'eye in the sky' drones has become a cost-effective way for conservationists to track suspected illegal activity
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013 15.21 BST
The Namib Desert Covert Operation from ShadowView on Vimeo.http://vimeo.com/58060364
Anti-hunting groups in Britain, conservationists on African game reserves and US animal welfare groups have started using drones to combat poaching and to monitor suspected illegal activities.
The cost of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has dropped so fast in the past year that it has now become cost-effective for civilians, rather than only the military, to use them widely, says Steve Roest, former chief executive of the Sea Shepherd conservation society. It pioneered the use of UAVs in 2011 to locate the Japanese whaling fleet heading for the Antarctic.
"What cost $30,000 a few years ago can be got for $5,000 now," Roest said. "You can get electrically driven, fixed wing and multirotor [machines] that have a range of 20 minutes to an hour, or gas-powered ones that can fly eight to 24 hours and fly up to 500km. They are changing the face of conservation: they can film anything, go anywhere."
Roest and the former Dutch policeman Laurens de Groot have set up a new charity called ShadowView to enable environment groups to observe activities such as illegal forestry, cruelty to animals and factory farming.
During 2012, ShadowView worked with the League Against Cruel Sports to monitor suspected illegal hunting in the UK and in the next few weeks they will begin work with marine watchdog group The Black Fish in the Mediterranean.
A rhino checks out the Octocopter while it performs a test flight from ShadowView on Vimeo.http://vimeo.com/58024230
According to Black Fish director Wietse van der Werf, the drones will be sent 20 or more miles out to sea to try to identify the drift netting fleet which uses illegal gear and kills thousands of sharks and other protected fish.
"The drones are not a gimmick. We want to use them to identify and then prosecute criminals. Drones give us the ability to monitor large areas. Previously we would have had to hire a helicopter or plane," said Van der Werf.
Roest said: "We should be able to work faster and much more cheaply than with big boats. If we had had this technology a few years ago we could much more easily have spotted the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica. We would not have had to do scary undercover work in Namibia. Instead we could have just filmed the illegal activities and given the film to the police. Drones do not mean that you can do without direct action and research, but it makes it easier."
Civilian use of "eye in the sky" drones is being developed by police forces around the world, as well as by businesses such as ski resorts and bodies such as national parks.
According to Marc-Alexandre Favier, a post-graduate farming researcher in Shropshire, they could even be used to take over from sheepdogs. He has written a computer programme for simple drones to locate and track livestock on farms. A small camera attached to a drone can now be controlled from a laptop via Wi-Fi, but eventually could be manoeuvred around hill farms or over farmland using a standard smartphone, he says.
In the US, civilian drones are being used to locate illegal puppy- and cat-breeding farms which are often hidden in woodland. In 2012, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), also said it was "actively shopping for machines to stalk hunters" targeting bears, deer and birds.
Ingrid Newkirk, Peta president, said: "We are shopping for one or more drone aircraft with which to monitor those who are out in the woods with death on their minds. The talk is usually about drones being used as killing machines, but Peta drones will be used to save lives. Hunters may need to rethink the idea that they can get away with murder, alone out there in the woods with no one watching."
Conservationists say that the technology will allow them to fight back against escalating wildlife crime, deforestation and illegal hunting. WWF has received a Google grant to use drones in Nepal and Africa.
Several major game reserves in South Africa are already using fixed-wing drones to monitor poachers and others are expected to follow. "We bought the equipment to try and combat rhino poaching before they are all gone," said the businessman Anton Kieser, after three rhinos were killed in the Kariega game reserve. "It is a big investment, but is also well worth it – we want to use drone technology to position ourselves at the forefront of the fight against rhino poaching."
But some agri-business and hunting groups have started to fight back. Missouri and Idaho states in the US are being pressed by farmers and hunting groups to pass laws to limit drone use to law enforcement agencies that have warrants. Elsewhere, hunters have equipped a drone with thermal imaging cameras to better locate wild pigs.
**************WWF plans to use drones to protect wildlife
The green group says by the end of the year it will have deployed 'eyes in the sky' in one country in Africa or Asia
The Guardian, Thursday 7 February 2013 14.17 GMT
Conservation group WWF has announced plans to deploy surveillance drones to aid its efforts to protect species in the wild, as the South African government revealed that 82 rhinos had been poached there since the new year.
The green group says that by the end of the year, it will have deployed "eyes in the sky" in one country in Africa or Asia, with a second country following in 2014 as part of a $5m hi-tech push to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
A record 668 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa alone last year, and a single shipment of ivory seized in Malaysia in December weighed almost as much as all the illegally traded ivory since in 2011, which was itself a record year for seizures. And poachers have kept up their hit rate since the beginning of 2013, according to figures from the South African government. "The Kruger National Park remains the hardest hit by rhino poachers this year, having lost 61 rhino to mostly foreign poachers," a government spokesperson said. "Twenty-one poachers have been arrested, 14 of them in the Kruger National Park."
The criminal trade has become so serious that last year the US intelligence community were ordered to track poachers by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, with a WWF report in December warning the multibillion dollar trade was now threatening national security in some countries.
Drone to fight illegal wildlife trade and poaching : wwf in Nepal park The WWF will deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to help monitor wildlife and combat poaching. Photograph: WWF Nepal
WWF's three-year project also involves combining data from unmanned aerial vehicles, cheap mobile phone technology tracking animal movements, and handheld devices carried by rangers, in a bid to outsmart often heavily armed poachers who bribe corrupt officials to avoid patrols and find wildlife.
Allan Crawford, project leader for the WWF Google technology project, who had just returned from the Kruger national park where many of South Africa's rhinos are being killed, told the Guardian: "It's a very scary prospect for rangers … they could run into very heavily armed gangs of poachers, there's usually four or five of them, sometimes with dogs. They've also got wild animals to contend with – one ranger was recently attacked by a lion. They're outnumbered, and sometimes poachers have night-vision equipment. There aren't enough resources to tackle this in South Africa at the moment. This is where the new technologies come in, to help them."
Drones are already being used by conservationists to monitor wildlife, such as orangutan populations in Sumatra, anti-whaling activists are using them against the Japanese whaling fleet, and a charity in Kenya recently beat its target of raising $35,000 in crowdfunding for a drone to protect rhinos and other wildlife in the country's Laikipia district. One South African rhino farmer is even planning to put 30 drones in the sky himself. But the way the three key technologies are being used by WWF is "unprecedented", Crawford said.
A pair of drones will be used in each of the two countries selected, which the group hopes to name within weeks, with plans to ultimately be operational in four sites by 2015, with different terrains. Crawford said the software and drones, which would be operated by rangers or local law enforcement, would "generate a strategic deployment of rangers in the most cost effective way, so they can form a shield between animals and poachers."
The drones would likely cost in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands, he said, adding that "if governments wanted to, they could deploy [more expensive] high altitude drones that can stay up high in the sky, and track poachers to get the middle men and whole trade line." The funding for WWF's project comes from a Google grant awarded last December.
"We've got to crack this problem because it's getting out of control," Crawford said. "The poachers seem to have figured out how to get round existing anti-poaching methods." But he admitted anti-poaching efforts could get caught up in an arms race, and that it was a "risk" that poachers may get their own drones. "It will be an escalation like that until we change the cause, which is demand in Asia."
*************Saving the rhino with surveillance drones
South African farmer plans to put 30 drones in the air to help combat poachers
David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 December 2012 22.10 GMT
A rhino farmer in South Africa is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.
Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.
He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.
Radical solutions are needed, he argues, at the end of a year which has seen a record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet demand from the Far East.
Vivier believes the true figure may be closer to 1,000, a significant dent in a population of around 20,000. "We're now eating into our capital of rhino," he said. "From here they are heading rapidly towards extinction. Despite all our efforts, we're just historians recording the demise of a species. We don't have the numbers on the ground to see people and stop them killing the animals."
Around 400 rhinos have been killed this year in the world-famous Kruger national park, which spans 2m hectares – impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. Vivier estimates it as the equivalent of a town with one policeman for every 100,000 houses, "all with the doors and windows and open and rhino horn inside".
He continued: "We need to change the rules of the game. We need technology. The only thing that can see these people before they do the dirty deed is surveillance drones."
The answer, he believes, is the unmanned Arcturus T-20, which, with a 17ft wingspan, can fly for 16 hours without refuelling 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."
Vivier has spent two years in talks with civil aviation officials 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, and a further 20 for other vulnerable reserves in South Africa.
He estimates that each drone would cost roughly $300,000 (£184,445) to keep in the air for two years, making a total of around $9m (£5.53m).
"The drones are economical to fly and will get us information at a very low cost. We need this technology to put us in a position to catch the guys. We need to do it before they kill rhino. The drone is, in my opinion, the only solution. It is highly sophisticated and can see things no other technology can."
After the worst rhino poaching year on record in South Africa, air technology is seen as a crucial preventative step. Earlier this month, a reconnaissance plane with surveillance equipment including thermal imaging began patrolling over Kruger park.
But Vivier believes such alternatives lack the Calfornia-built Arcturus T-20's capability. "The smaller ones are like using a bucket to put out a fire at the Empire State building. We need fire engines. We're now an inferno. If we don't wake up and do something, the world will lose the rhino."
He appealed for the US, UK or other countries to help raise the necessary funds. "The company making the drone has to be paid and we don't have the money. We need the best technology because the criminals are sharp. We've had approval from the US state department and we're trying to work with them. It's a world problem and the rest of the world needs to help us."
Vivier is among a group of rhino farmers who believe that legalising the trade in horn would thwart the black market and reduce poaching. Several conservation groups disagree and call for measures that will reduce demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horn is seen as a delicacy with health benefits.
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."
*****************Google Earth and drones help save Kenya’s elephants
A fleet of iPad-controlled drones – and chilli powder – is helping conservationists keep elephants away from danger
theguardian.com, Thursday 10 October 2013 14.39 BST
elephants walking at Amboseli National Park, Kenya A fleet of iPad-controlled drones – and chilli powder – is helping conservationists keep elephants away from danger. Photograph: Zhang Weiyi/Corbis
Conservationist Marc Goss touches “take off” on his iPad 3, sending a $300 AR Drone whirring into the air - his latest weapon to fight elephant poachers around Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
“It’s an arms race,” said Goss, whose green khaki clothing shields him from thorny acacia branches in the 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres) of savanna he protects. “We’re seeing larger numbers of poachers.”
Besides the almost 2 foot-long drone, Goss and other conservationists are using night-vision goggles and Google Earth to halt the decline of Kenya’s wildlife, which helps attract $1bn a year in tourism. With elephant ivory sold for as much as $1,000 a kilogram in Hong Kong, Kenya is facing its most serious threat from poaching in almost a quarter of a century, according to the United Nations.
Parrot AR drone The $300 Parrot AR drone is being used to defend elephants in Kenya's Maasai Mara game reserve
At least 232 elephants have been killed in the year to the end of September, adding to 384 last year from a population of 40,000. Demand for illicit ivory from expanding economies such as China and Thailand has doubled since 2007, according to the UN Environment Programme.
Goss’s patch borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where semi-nomadic tribesmen, known as the Maasai, wearing checked-red robes herd their cows. On a warm morning he squints through the bush at a tusk-less elephant carcass, surrounded by 10 of its grieving family members in the hills above the village of Aitong.
'Drones are a future of conservation'
“It’s pretty grim,” Goss, a 28-year-old Kenyan who manages the Mara Elephant Project, said as he stood 50 metres (55 yards) from the carcass. “It’s an elephant without a face. It’ll be eaten by hyenas now.”
Poachers had speared the pachyderm in her back. Its ivory would be worth more than $8,000 in Asia. The carcass was the third found in four days, an unusually high number, Goss said. One was shot with an automatic rifle and the other animal was also pierced.
When he started using the drones, Goss thought they would help mainly with providing aerial footage of the landscape and tracking poachers armed with rifles and the Maasai who sometimes killed the animals when they interfere with the grazing of their cows. He soon discovered they could help by frightening the elephants, keeping them out of harm’s way.
Drones can do the work of 50 rangers
“We realised very quickly that the elephants hated the sound of them,” said Goss, whose week-old beard goes white near his temples. “I’m assuming that they think it’s a swarm of bees.”
Zimbabwe has seen a spate of elephants being killed with cyanide in 2013. Zimbabwe has seen a spate of elephants being killed with cyanide in 2013. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media
Goss and his team have put collars with global positioning system devices on 15 elephants so they can be tracked on a computer overlaying their paths on Google Earth. That way the animals, who have names such as Madde, after Goss’s wife, Fred, Hugo and Polaris, can be followed to see if they’ve strayed into areas at risk of poaching or human conflict.
Goss hopes to buy 10 more drones and to modify them by adding a mechanism that releases capsaicin, the active component in chili pepper, when elephants stray near dangerous areas. Paint balls loaded with chili pepper are being used in Zambia’s lower Zambezi region to deter elephants from high-risk zones.
“Drones are basically the future of conservation; a drone can do what 50 rangers can do,” said James Hardy, a fourth-generation Kenyan and manager of the Mara North Conservancy. “It’s going to reach a point where drones are on the forefront of poaching. At night time we could use it to pick up heat signatures of poachers, maybe a dead elephant if we’re quick enough.”
East Africa is a key battleground against the poaching of elephants, whose numbers in Africa are estimated between 419,000 and 650,000, according to the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as Cites.
Kenya is proposing stiffer penalties for the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, with fines of as much as 10m Kenyan shillings ($117,000) and 15-year jail terms. The government has deployed paramilitary forces and plans to acquire drones to fight poaching.
The development of new towns and urban sprawl in Kenya is intensifying the conflict between humans and elephants. The UN says the country’s population has more than doubled to about 43.2 million people in the past two decades.
“Kenya very soon will have to make some tough decisions on how to manage the elephant population because they will be at high levels of human-elephant conflict,” said Matthew Lewis, senior programme officer of the WWF’s African species conservation programme.
Across the Maasai Mara, which means spotted land in Swahili, Calvin Cottar uses a €86,000 ($116,000) gyrocopter to enforce land agreements he made with neighboring Maasai communities. His camp, part of Cheli & Peacock’s safari lodge portfolio, is built on plots he leases from the Maasai for $45 to $50 an acre. As part of the deal they won’t graze their cattle on areas that Cottar is trying to conserve.
“A big issue we have is night-time surveillance,” he said. “I can’t use the gyro at night so we’ll probably resort to using these drones.”
Later, Cottar sits at a wooden table where a member of the Kenya Wildlife Service recounts the previous evening’s close call. With his G3 rifle leaning against a concrete wall, the ranger eats a lunch of rice and beans as he tells Cottar that he thinks an elephant was shot and wounded for its ivory.
The rangers are planning a night-time operation nearby. Anti-poaching forces only fire on illegal hunters if they have guns, said Cottar, who runs a 1920s colonial-style safari camp with his wife Louise.
“It could have been poachers, so now we’re setting a trap for them,” said Cottar, who hunted game in Tanzania in the 1980s. “If they see someone with a gun, those rangers will shoot them. If they’re without a gun, they’ll chase them.”