Drones for Wildlife Conservation

via ThinkStock
via ThinkStock

Does that snout say “hangover cure” to you? It does to thousands of people in Asia who rely on traditional medicines made from endangered animals to cure everything from headaches to infertility. In 2014 alone, 1,214 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, mostly for the Asian market. The practice is unsustainable at best; at worst, it’s catastrophic for the species and their ecosystems alike. Students at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies are devising mathematical methods to crack down on hunters.

Rangers in South Africa’s national parks confront many problems in the protection of the natural flora and fauna. Large swaths of ground to cover coupled with unpredictable human and animal movements create a complicated guessing game for the rangers—where will the animals be, and where will the poachers go?

Using unmanned drones to collect reams of data, the UMD team has devised an algorithm based on weather conditions, moon phases, poaching locations, animal movements, and track devices. These will help predict where easily-poachable rhinos will be, allowing the parks to deploy rangers in those areas.

“On our first UAV flight in South Africa, the UAV flew to our pre-determined spot and immediately found a female rhino and her calf; they were within 30 meters of a major road. We decided to circle the drone over the rhinos and within minutes a vehicle stopped at the park’s fence. Three individuals exited the car and began to climb the fence to kill the rhinos. Our rangers had been pre-deployed to the area; they arrested the three poachers in under 3 minutes. This episode has been repeated dozens of times over the past 20 months,” writes Thomas Snitch, the project leader.

Read more here.

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