Drone videos haven't yet resulted in any convictions for poaching in the area. But experts are convinced that the drones have helped deter the poaching of elephants as well as rhinos, which are often killed for their horns.
In the parks and reserves where the drones operate, elephant and rhino poaching has fallen significantly or stopped altogether, according to UDS co-founder Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg. He says drones are particularly effective at spotting poachers at night, when anti-poaching teams in helicopters are grounded.
Stopping the poaching of elephants and rhinos is just one dramatic example of the use of drones for wildlife conservation.
“There’s a lot of really interesting applications,” says Serge Wich, a U.K.-based ecologist who in 2012 co-founded Conservation Drones, a nonprofit that tracks drone projects around the world. “I'm always surprised by the great creativity of colleagues in using these systems to collect data in really novel ways, and there are certainly more options for the future.”
Wich himself uses drones to survey orangutan populations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Drones have also been used to spot river dolphins in the Amazon and whales in the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste; to take a census of chimpanzees in Tanzania; and to map illegal logging in Indonesian rainforests.
Ecologist Lian Pin Koh, the other co-founder of Conservation Drones, uses drones in Australia to survey koalas at night, when their warm bodies show up vividly against the cooler tree foliage in thermal imaging videos. “You can see the gum trees lighting up like Christmas trees,” he says.