In a battle against poachers terrorizing Kenya’s dwindling elephant population, Google and WWF have teamed up to guard the Maasai Mara National Reserve by using a combination of remote-controlled drones and Google Earth. Having discovered that elephants are frightened by the sounds of drones (which were originally used to provide aerial footage of the poachers), the team is using ‘scare tactics’ to keep the elephants out of harm’s way.
The Google-funded effort is led by conservationist Marc Goss, who uses iPad s to control the drones. Goss and his team have also managed to place collars with global positioning system devices on 15 elephants, which will help keep them out of dangerous areas by tracking them through Google Earth. 10 more drones are in the pipeline to be purchased, which will be modified to include a mechanism that releases capsacin, the active component in chili pepper, when elephants stray near dangerous areas. This is similar to the method being used in Zambia’s lower Zamebezi region, where paintballs filled with chili pepper are fired to deter elephants from wandering into high-risk zones.
East Africa is finally on the rise against elephant poachers, who sell the ivory from the tusks to countries like China and Thailand where it is valued at about $8000 per tusk. Kenya is seeking to impose harsher penalties for the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, with fines of as much as 10m Kenyan shillings ($117K) and 15-year jail terms being proposed. The government has also deployed paramilitary forces and is looking to purchase more drones to fight poaching. “Drones are basically the future of conservation, said James Hardy, the Kenyan manager of the Mara North Conservancy. “A drone can do what 50 rangers can do.”