Nepal’s national parks are home to endangered rhinos, tigers and elephants—three of the species most vulnerable to illegal wildlife trade. Antipoaching teams from two of those parks recently received a major boost when WWF introduced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which will help monitor wildlife and combat poaching. WWF helped train 19 park rangers and Nepal Army members on how to use UAVs and conduct field tests.
Eye in the Sky
Effective wildlife monitoring has depended traditionally on accessibility of the terrain by antipoaching patrols as well as prior intelligence on poachers in the vicinity. Technologies like these non-lethal UAVs give park rangers a new and vital advantage against dangerously armed poachers.
As an “eye in the sky”, the UAV provides access into previously unreachable areas and a safe view of illegal activities on the ground. The presence of a UAV also serves as a deterrent to poachers and illegal loggers since they now know that the parks are being monitored both on the ground and from above.
The GPS-enabled FPV Raptor model planes are light enough to be launched by hand. They film the ground below with a still or video camera and can fly a pre-programmed route of about 18 miles at a maximum elevation of 650 feet for up to 50 minutes. The battery can be recharged in about half an hour. The devices are also low cost—an important factor for a developing country like Nepal.
“Nepal is committed to stopping wildlife crime, which is robbing Nepal of its natural resources, putting the lives of rangers and local communities at risk, and feeding into global criminal networks,” said Director General Krishna Acharya of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
WWF Helps Rangers on the Frontlines
WWF provided two UAVs to Nepal in order to combat illegal activities like poaching and logging. A pilot test of the UAVs was conducted in June 2012. Following the government’s interest in this technology, WWF organized training earlier this month.
WWF works with the government of Nepal and local communities to protect and connect wildlife habitats and help people benefit from nature. The UAV training was conducted in Bardia National Park which recently saw a positive increase in its tiger population.
“As the global poaching crisis escalates, WWF is excited by the potential of technologies like UAVs to aid rangers on the frontline and better protect Nepal’s natural heritage,” said Shubash Lohani, Deputy Director of WWF’s Eastern Himalayas Program. “We hope this field test will not only improve protection of Nepal’s national parks, but also gain new champions in other vulnerable places around the world.”