These drones save lives

150221 quadcopterUAV

One day last year in the British countryside, well-dressed men riding expensive horses were engaging in a familiar sport when they heard a strange buzzing noise.

It came from a quadcopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) roughly the size of a small fox with helicopter-like rotors and a video camera.

Standing some distance away, the pilot was maneuvering the remote-controlled vehicle close enough to the scene to film the hunters’ faces. Fox hunting has been illegal in the United Kingdom for a decade, and the League Against Cruel Sports would use the footage to identify the offenders.

A Dutch foundation, ShadowView, provided the technology and skills that made it possible to flush out the clandestine hunters.

“Essentially we provide a service of aeriel imagery,” said Laurens de Groot, a ShadowView co-founder and long-time nature conservationist, sitting at the foundation’s small headquarters in Rotterdam.

Billing itself as operators of “good drones,” ShadowView flies only environmental, conservationist, and humanitarian relief operations.

Working with partner organizations such as park rangers, police, or other NGOs, the foundation has flown missions to document and deter poaching in South Africa, illegal bow hunting in the United States, baby seal killings in Namibia, illegal fishing in Italy, and horse smuggling (as well as fox hunting) in the UK.

As UAVs, popularly known as drones, have become cheaper, easier to operate, and more commonplace, their roles are evolving, too. Long a tool of military and intelligence agencies, drones now perform tasks as mundane as wedding photography. 

At the same time, environmental and nature conservation outfits are taking advantage of the quality aerial surveillance they provide. An eye in the sky can monitor a great deal more land than park rangers on foot.

After nine years designing, building, and flying drones for a military contractor, Lucian Banitz wanted to put his skills to better use. “I didn’t want to be part of inventing better ways to kill people anymore,” he said by phone from his home in South Africa.

He joined ShadowView in 2012 and has participated in efforts to eradicate rhinoceros poaching.

The illegal hunting of large animals is on the rise. According to South African government figures, in the first six months of 2013, poachers killed 461 rhinos in that

country. That number rose to 558 for the same period in 2014. Earning millions for the dealers who buy and sell the horns, poachers are often well organized and heavily armed.

This spring, Banitz flew the foundation’s largest fixed-wing drone, the Eco Ranger, over a private conservation park in the Greater Kruger National Park.

With a wingspan longer than 3 m, the Eco Ranger looks more like a regular airplane than one piloted from the ground, and can remain airborne for up to two hours using an electric motor.

It can be piloted from up to 30 km away—a distance limited by the curvature of the earth rather than by the reach of transmission equipment.

On one particular occasion, the drone piloted by Banitz located poachers and he provided the coordinates to park rangers, who went to intercept them.

The drone operations are proving to be a successful deterrent to poaching. The private park was losing as many as eight rhinos per month to illegal hunters before ShadowView started carrying out aerial surveillance on a semi-regular basis in January 2014. In the seven months that followed, poachers managed to kill only two of the animals.

 “The world being the disturbed place that it is, there are endless amounts of money for drones being used to kill people,” Banitz said. “It is definitely more challenging getting it done for the reasons we are doing it.”


Excerpt taken from

by Christopher F. Shuetze (for Sparknews)



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