The Kruger National Park recorded its first tangible drone success when an unmanned aerial vehicle being tested spotted three unknown people running through a section of the park.
Footage of the incident recorded by cellphone off the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) monitors in the support vehicle, was posted to Air Shepherd’s YouTube channel yesterday. The uploaded footage, originally shot with a lens with infrared capability, shows how three dark elongated dots swiftly move across open ground in sharp contrast against the paleness of the surrounding trees and foliage, which are much cooler than the three bodies the crew in the support vehicle are watching.
“It was about 2am or 3am when we found them after receiving intelligence on the matter,” said UAV and Drone Solutions CEO Otto Werdmüller von Eigg, who noted a firearm had been recovered. UAVs entered their second year of very expensive testing in the Kruger and Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal and where a suppression of poaching was used as an indicator of the UAV’s success.
“We are happy. The naysayers keep saying UAVs don’t work, you can’t see poachers, however what you’re seeing is a grainy video taken on a cellphone and you can easily see those are people,” said Werdmüller von Eigg.
Air Shepherd is the umbrella name of three organisations – the Charles A and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, the Peace Parks Foundation, and UAV and Drone Solutions – which banded together to attack poaching in the park which had 826 rhino poached last year, slightly more than two a day. Even at two a day, it means about 210 rhinos are estimated to have been poached in the Kruger so far this year.
The department of environmental affairs last gave out poaching statistics in January. Werdmüller von Eigg noted there was an art to the use of the UAV.
“There has to be intelligence and anti-poaching units on the ground as well, otherwise we’re just turning batteries into noise.”