Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, has been given a green light by the US state department to buy the Arcturus T-20 drone to combat poachers who are driving the country’s rhinos toward extinction.
South African Poaching
Vivier believes that close to 1,000 rhino were killed in South Africa last year by poachers who sell their ivory rich horns to lucrative Asian markets. A significant dent in a population of around 20,000. “We’re now eating into our capital of rhino,” he said.
Around 400 rhinos were killed last year in giant Kruger national park alone, which is impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. “We need to change the rules of the game, Vivier said. “We need technology.”
The drones would enable the tracking of poachers escaping South Africa across the nation’s borders into Zimbabwe, Mozambique Botswana or Namibia.
The T-20 has a 17-foot wingspan, can fly at a height of 15,000 feet with up to 65 pounds of payload and stay aloft for 16 hours without refueling. Outfitted with cameras, it can beam back live video of a full 360 degree unobstructed field of view to the operators.
While the T-20 can hold missile payloads, being a civilian, Mr Viver’s drones will not carry bombs or missiles. Its primary use will be reconnaissance of poachers.
The drone flies silent and its infrared camera will be invaluable for spotting poachers at night. “It can tell whether a man is carrying a shovel or firearm and whether he has his finger on the trigger or not,” said Vivier. “We can see the poacher but he can’t see us. We’re good at arresting them when we know where they are. Otherwise it’s a needle in a haystack.”
Vivier is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.
The Zululand Rhino Reserve
was established in 2004 and comprises 17 landowners who have dropped their internal fences to create a big 5, endangered species reserve. The Reserve was chosen as a release site for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.
In 2005 a founder population of black rhino were released into their new home. In 2009 the reserve was proclaimed as a Nature Reserve under the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 acknowledging the reserve as a site of biodiversity importance that makes essential contributions to the conservation of species and habitats.