Air Shepherd: Using Drones to Protect Elephants & Rhinos in Africa

Air Shepherd: Using Drones to Protect Elephants & Rhinos in Africa


Their motto is reversing the march of extinction, and boy, do they have their work cut out for them. We're talking about Air Shepherd. With a website full of sobering statistics, it's hard not to be alarmed when you read that since 2007, rhino poaching has increased by 9,000 percent in South Africa alone. Or that across Africa, every 9-11 hours, a rhino is slaughtered, and every 14 minutes an elephant is killed.

At this rate, elephants and rhinos could be extinct in as little as 10 years. Why is that not upsetting for so many people? It should be because human behavior is what's driving the trend.

Fueling the Demand for Wildlife Deaths

Unfortunately, one of the main factors behind the demand is misinformation stemming from antiquated ideas regarding so-called medicinal applications for rhino horns (btw, shark cartilage does not cure or keep cancer at bay, either) and entitled individuals' views on ivory.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material as fingernails. The thing is, science has never proven any medicinal uses for rhino horns, including cancer, hangovers, fever, and epilepsy, which many people in parts of Asia still believe is a cure for. Due to the limited supply and high demand, it's priced at $30,000 a pound, making it worth more than gold! Vietnam is currently the most significant user country of rhino horn.

Illegal Ivory Trade

Ivory, which goes for at least $1,000 a pound, is typically transformed into what's known as status carvings for trinkets, religious figures, jewelry, and more. China is said to be the biggest consumer of illegal ivory, with 70 of it percent ending up there. All of this is made possible through poaching.

Poaching Boom

According to Air Shepherd, poaching is a $70-billion-dollar-a-year illegal industry that funds organized crime, terrorist groups, and corrupt governments. It pays so well poachers are equipped with night-vision goggles, high-powered machine guns, GPS, and even helicopters.

They've even resorted to poisoning waterholes with cyanide in order to kill even larger numbers of elephants more cheaply and efficiently. As Air Shepherd points out, the entire animal kingdom suffers because every living creature that drinks the water dies. The short-sightedness of their plan is staggering.

Drone Technology

Air Shepherd is fighting against poaching by combining advanced-surveillance drone technology with a team of rangers on the ground to monitor poaching activity. Part of the Lindbergh Foundation, they work with locals to identify threats to elephants and rhinos.

Their surveillance allows them to analyze the data in real-time. When potential poachers are spotted, they radio nearby rangers to intercept the suspects. Equipped with high-resolution cameras, infrared scanning, and image processing, silent drones are proving to be quite effective.

Partners in Crime — Fighting

They have partnered with the World Wildlife Fund, the Peace Parks Foundation, African Parks, the Peace Exchange, and the Elephant Cooperation, among many others. If you'd like to support their far-ranging work, you can contribute to Air Shepherd by clicking here.

Rebecca West

Rebecca is a writer and editor for both print and digital with a love for travel, history, archaeology, trivia, and architecture. Much of her writing has focused on human and animal health and welfare. A life-long pet owner, she has taken part in fostering dogs for military members during deployment and given many rescued and surrendered dogs the forever home they always wanted. Her two favorite canine quotes are, "Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are," and "My dog rescued me."

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