With the rising number of attacks on endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers severely hampering conservation efforts, Google has stepped in to offer a helping hand, funding the purchase of unmanned drones and specialized software to help keep track of animals in the wild.
The drones, which can be piloted via a tablet computer, will be used to fly over the animal’s habitats and photograph poachers in the act, whilst they will also be used to track some of the animals using smart radio tags.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Google’s $5 million donation will also be used to map those areas where poachers are most likely to strike. In addition, the WWF is working to develop a portable DNA testing kit that could be used to identify any dead animals they find.
The funding from Google comes at a time when conservationists are seriously concerned about the re-emergence of poaching in Africa and Asia, a trade that is being fuelled by a growing demand for body parts used in traditional medicines. The WWF says that poaching has devastated some populations of endangered species, most especially rhinos, setting conservation efforts back by decades.
Traffic.org, which monitors the trade in body parts of endangered species, says that in the last five years, 588 rhinos are reported to have been killed by poachers in South Africa, compared to just 13 in the five years before that.
Carter Roberts, President of the WWF, warned that the poaching crisis was unprecedented:
“We need solutions that are as sophisticated as the threats we face. This pushes the envelope in the fight against wildlife crime.”
The Google cash comes from its Global Impact Award program, which has so far handed out more than $23 million to seven organizations.