The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal has reported a 92% reduction in rhino poaching incidents during a year-long project involving locally-built drones.
Built in a factory in Kyalami, Johannesburg, the custom-made drones clocked over 3,600 flying hours across in four separate deployments across an area home to one of the biggest rhino populations in the world.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi has the highest concentration of rhinos in the world, according to Shaya E-Security company.
It’s fleet of drone aircraft was used to stream live video via satellite to ‘armchair pilots’ on the ground.
During the initial one month-long pilot project not a single rhino was lost inside Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. By contrast the country’s worst affected wildlife areas are losing up to 50 rhino each month.
“Finally some good news in the war against rhino poaching,” said Shaya chief operations officer, Ben van Dyk. “We’ve proved the value of drone technology in the fight against rhino poaching. The world urgently needs a solution to the poaching crisis, and we believe we’ve found it.”
Shaya’s drone project featured a range of remote-controlled drone designs, from the five-metre wingspan ‘Assegai’ to the much smaller battery-operated ‘Hexcopter’.
The design team included aeronautical engineers, auto-pilot programmers, industrial designers, computer scientists, and commercial pilots.
Van Dyk said the key to the drones’ success was on-board sensors and high definition cameras capable of providing real time monitoring across a vast wilderness area. They flew at an altitude of around 500 metres and reached speeds of up to 180 km/h, providing constant live video as well as thermal and infra-red surveillance.
The live images could be controlled or viewed remotely from anywhere in the world on portable devices such as laptops, or even a cell phone, enabling faster reaction time and better communication with ground teams.
The innovative project, concluded earlier this year, could provide a model for future deployments countrywide, according to Shaya CEO Ian Melamed.