The current escalated levels of desire for high-value wildlife products such as rhino horn, elephant ivory, lion bone and pangolin scales has driven the illegal hunting of these and other species to levels not seen in decades. At the same time, the demand for protein to feed Africa’s burgeoning human population is driving an ever-growing market for illegally-harvested bushmeat. Together, these industries threaten the very existence of the continent’s unique protected areas and remaining wildlife.
Maintaining the integrity of our reserves and the fragile ecosystems that exist within them is therefore a primary concern for Singita’s conservation teams, with anti-poaching operations a critical part of our effort to stem the tide of this illicit trade.
In this context, nothing can substitute a traditional well-trained, well-motivated and well-resourced team of anti-poaching scouts. However, through innovative deployment of high-tech modern technology, we can significantly increase their effectiveness.
The Grumeti Fund has plans to launch a reconnaissance drone program in 2018. The drone will be fitted with live video capabilities that enable imagery to be transmitted back to the operations room in real-time. The drone is launched and used for surveying a specific area of interest or suspected poaching hot spot. Whenever the drone detects an object of interest (such as elephants, cattle, humans or dogs) specialised artificial intelligence software will flag sections of footage for review by the drone operator. The operator carefully reviews the footage to ascertain whether there is a genuine threat, and can control the drone to orbit over a suspected threat. This enables scout teams to move in and confront the poachers, whilst keeping an ‘eye in the sky’ to guide them and increase their safety.