Could Drones Be Used to Combat Wildlife Poaching?
Picture a band of rhino poachers toting high-caliber rifles and axes, creeping stealthily through an African wildlife preserve under cover of darkest night. As the poachers draw closer, they’re spotted by a lone sentinel who has vigilantly been keeping watch over the endangered animals. First this sentinel sends an encrypted text message to park rangers stationed miles away at their headquarters, alerting them to the presence of the intruders. The rangers board a helicopter and fly out to intercept the marauding horde. Meanwhile, the rhinos’ guardian races toward the poachers and keeps them at bay by flashing bright lights to frighten and distract them.
Presently the rangers arrive, and the poachers are apprehended. The rhinos are safe. And the brave sentinel—a small, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) more commonly known as a "drone"—zooms through the midnight air back to the rhino herd, over which it will continue to hover, watchfully and faithfully.
The scenario is hypothetical for now. But it may not be in a year’s time. Usually associated with lethal military operations, drones are getting a chance to earn a kinder, gentler reputation as protectors of wildlife. As the poaching of rhinos, elephants and other animals has skyrocketed throughout Africa, conservationists are joining forces with drone technology specialists to combat this heinous crime. Now these groups say they may have hit upon the holy grail of counterpoaching: a practical, affordable and effective strategy that will help stem the tide.
The global trade in illegal wildlife is valued at between $8 billion and $10 billion a year, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In 2012, poachers killed an estimated 22,000 elephants across the African continent. Last year, they killed more than a thousand rhinos in South Africa alone, compared with just 13 in 2007. The market for the slaughtered animals is mainly in Asia, where the keratin in rhino horn has long been prized for its (scientifically unsubstantiated) medicinal value. In January, two rhino horns were intercepted by customs officials in Prague before they could make their way to Southeast Asia; the black market value of the pair was estimated at $360,000.
Last year, these worrisome trend lines prompted a novel response by conservationists: hold a contest. The Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge aims to decrease the cost of developing and producing small drones and to increase their role as benevolent watchdogs. So far, 137 teams from 29 countries have signed up to design and construct the best, most cost-effective model. The winning entry will be announced this fall at South Africa’s Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa and the site of many brutal, and even deadly, poaching-related battles in recent years.
The UAV Challenge is in good company. In 2012, equipped with a $5 million grant from Google, the World Wildlife Fund set out to find new ways of combating poachers. In field tests conducted last fall in two Namibian national parks, the organization came to the conclusion that “while no technology is a silver bullet, UAVs really did add a number of key strengths for ranger patrolling,” according to Crawford Allan, head of the fund’s wildlife crime technology project. “UAVs have multiple applications, like monitoring wildlife and detecting breaks in fencing, as well as tracking poachers.”
A critical question, Allan admits, is whether cash-strapped conservation organizations can afford UAVs. At present, even the most bare-bones prototypes cost between $20,000 and $30,000; one of the UAV Challenge’s goals is to bring that cost down. Educating rangers on proper use is another goal. “If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing,” he says, “you could fly a drone straight into the face of a cliff.” Training will have to be a major part of any UAV-based system, he adds. “It’s a learning curve for everyone.”
Poachers, fortunately, are likely to grasp the potential of drones intuitively. Allan says that one of the technology’s biggest benefits will be its deterrent effect. Just knowing—or even suspecting—that UAVs are hovering up there in the night sky, he says, will probably be enough to make many of the bad guys decide to stay home.
This article was originally posted in Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth.
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By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
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In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
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