Courtesy Bathawk Recon

Tanzania is using drones to protect the Serengeti from poaching

Private drones may be banned from flying over Tanzania’s National Parks, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see any drones there.

The Tanzania National Parks Authority commonly known as TANAPA has officially signed on to use drones as a form of anti-poaching surveillance.

Tanzania’s National Parks Authority is working with drone anti-poaching service Bathawk Recon to operate the drones.

A number of groups have used drones as a form of anti-poaching, though the efficacy of those efforts has been sometimes questionable and difficult to prove. The Kenya Wildlife Service is using drones at Tsavo National Park, and San Francisco-based startup Airware tested drones at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Anti-poaching drones are particularly prevalent in a number of countries in Africa. In South Africa, 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014 alone due to demand for rhino horn.

In 2012, Google gave $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund to purchase drones to fly over parts of Africa and Asia in an attempt to help monitor and catch wildlife poachers.

But in many drone use-cases, where the drones completely replace humans, the anti-poaching use-case only works if there are people actively watching the data and available to confront the poachers.

According to Save The Rhino, “concerns over the use of conservation drones, including fears that they might be misused have led to bans in certain areas,” including a 2015 ban on drones in Kenya and a ban on drones in National Parks in Namibia.

“And in some cases, drone operators have allegedly been bribed to give out sensitive rhino location details to poachers,” according to Save The Rhino.

And then there’s also the issue of knowing where to send drones given the parkland is so fast.

Bathawk thinks it has solved that problem with software to predict locations of animals — and pocachers.

The University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies has taken a similar approach, having devised analytical models of how animals, poachers, and rangers simultaneously move through space and time by combining high resolution satellite imagery with loads of big data—everything from moon phases, to weather, to previous poaching locations, to info from rhinos’ satellite ankle trackers—and then applying our own algorithms. That information can predict where the animals and poachers will be. They have been flying drones in Africa since May 2013.

“Africa is too big to be simply launching small drones into the night sky with the hope of spotting rhinos or poachers by chance,” said University of Maryland professor Thomas Snitch. “This is where the analytical models come into play. Based on our models, we know, with near 90 percent certainty, where rhinos are likely to be on a particular night between 6:30 and 8:00, prime time for killings. At the same time, by mathematically recreating the environment when previous poachings have occurred, we have a very good idea of when and where poachers are likely to strike.”

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