Speaking to South African website Defence Web Mark McGill, technical operations manager at SANParks, said that the UAV test period was “very disappointing” as no poachers were seen and none apprehended. He said that UAVs need a lot of further development before they can be useful.
This really comes as no surprise, anti-poaching patrols are one of the most emotive use cases touted by drone manufacturers. On the face of it a good idea, but the reality is something else.
I have said it before, the world is not flat and entirely made of grass, spotting wildlife from the air is hard.
Silicon Valley and companies looking to provide patrols jumped in with both feet and oversold the technology. Sadly end users took the bait and spent money. Money that could have been better spent elsewhere in the conservations sphere.
Several years ago in the part of South Africa in which I live, I was asked to see what one group was doing and was horrified to note that they simply flew large petrol-powered models with no sensors or autopilot at all. They charged the park a small fortune. The justification was that the noise alone deterred poachers. Several reports came out of that about a completely fictional drop in the rate of poaching. In one case the rate actually increased, but that was probably just coincidental.
Drones do have a part to play in conservation, they need to be included in landscape management and animal studies. A better understanding of the environment in which endangered animals live will increase their chances. I know of several such studies being undertaken with DJI Phantom airframes. The Phantom has revolutionised data collection for researchers. Image quality and price are a perfect fit.
The Kruger National Park is about the size of Isreal and worse a long thin version. Roughly 365km long and 60 ish wide. It is a job for military grade big machines not sUAS.
Maybe the US government would like to donate some of the Predators being retired for a wildlife protection force.
That would make for a more positive second life.
Rant ends! This is a subject very close to my heart. It is why I started my sUAS journey.