Ol Pejeta Anti-Poaching Drone

Ol Pejeta is home to four of the last seven northern white rhinos left in the world

Rhino and elephant poaching in both East and Southern Africa have sky-rocketed in the past several years. It seems like every day we are getting reports of animals killed (4 rhino near Lake Nakuru just yesterday, a whole family of elephants in Tsavo earlier in the month) or tons of ivory discovered in Hong Kong, Singapore(1.8 tons worth $2.5 million dollars seized yesterday) and Beijing.

National wildlife services and private conservancy’s throughout the continent are fighting to stem tide and one conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya is testing out a new and innovative solution.

Nestled in the shadow of the majestic Mount Kenya, Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000-acre game reserve is home to a 110 black and white rhinos. Since late 2009, it has also been home to four of the last seven northern white rhinos left in the world.

Despite its vast size, the privately owned conservancy relies on a team of just 190 rangers — 40 of whom are armed — to safeguard its wildlife.¬† These rangers are battling poachers hunting elephants for their ivory and rhino for the supposed healing powers of their horns.

Armed with big guns, chainsaws and night-vision equipment, poachers seem to prefer targeting privately owned game parks including Ol Pejeta, Lewa and Solio in Kenya’s Laikipia region. Ol Pejeta lost 7 rhino in the 2010-2011 period but has not lost any over the last 12 months with increased staff training, a fully electrified perimeter fence and tracking each of the reserve’s 110 rhinos every three days (Lewa lost one rhino in early December).

Ol Pejeta has just added a new weapon to its anti-poaching arsenal which it hopes will increase the effiency of these other efforts: an unmanned aerial drone that will help monitor and track wildlife across the reserve night and day and hopefull provide immediate notification of the presence of poachers.

The conservancy raised $35,000 through the crowd-funding website Indiegogo to help it buy its first drone. The electrically powered “aerial ranger,” with a final cost of about $70,000, will be fitted with a high-definition camera featuring a powerful zoom for day operations and infrared thermal imaging for night flights.

Each aerial mission is expected to cover an area of 50 square miles over a 90-minute flight. It will fly 3-4 times per day, monitoring the locations of the endangered species and transmitting a live stream to a laptop on the ground, allowing rangers to reach vulnerable areas and fend off any potential poachers.

Unarmed drones have been deployed by a number of conservancies across the world in recent years to protect endangered species but this is the first time they will be tested in East Africa.

Rob Breare the head of Ol Pejeta Conservancy says that¬† “the most basic level, it’s just a sheer deterrent factor…if people hear them, if they know there’s an eye in the sky, it’s a huge deterrence to try anything.” He adds: “The next level up is what we call observation — the ability to use our camera footage to see what’s going on in situations and direct our rangers to a location.”

Ol Pejeta, which welcomes about 80,000 visitors annually, is hoping to be able to expand its drone fleet and ultimately share its experience with neighboring game reserves.

The staff at Ol Pejeta hope that in the near future the drones can also be used to support other conservation efforts. They have plans to chip the rhinos and other endangered animals with unique radio frequency ID tags, which the drones will be able to recognize and locate. Conservationists hope that this system will let them gather data on animal behavior that could prove to be useful for academic purposes as well as boosting tourism activities.

In additional welcome news the Kenyan government has announced that it will add a further 200 million Kenya Shillings (approx. $2.5 million) to the anti-poaching efforts, giving the Kenya Wildlife Service greater resources to combat poachers. Anti-poaching is a long term battle but with both the private game reserves and KWS demonstraing their committment to fighting poachers, hopefully we will start to see some success.

Some of the properties in Ol Pejeta include: Sweetwaters Tented Camp, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp and Ol Pejeta House. Our favorites are Porini Rhino Camp and Kicheche Laikipia.

Sources: CNN, Ol Pejeta Conservancy website, Wolfgang H. Thome.

For more information email info@ejafrica.com



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