The Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya has been forced to scrap plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for counter poaching duties after the Kenyan government banned the private use of UAVs.
In December last year US company Airware deployed an Aerial Ranger UAV to track down poachers in an effort to showcase the potential of the aircraft. Ol Pejeta had planned to unveil its UAVs this month, reports The Star. The conservancy used crowdfunding website Indiegogo to successfully raise $35 000 to buy the first UAV and animal tracking equipment. However, the launch has been cancelled.
“The Kenya government has put a ban in place on private sector drones for the time being. We will be working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service to identify the way forward for our conservation drone but in the meantime we ask you to continue your incredible patience as we work to bring this project to fruition,” said Ol Pejeta Conservancy chief commercial officer Robert Breare and public relations manager Elodie Sampere in a joint statement to the press.
Airware founder and CEO Jonathan Downey earlier this year said the pilot programme in Kenya was aimed at educating people on the positive uses of UAVs. Airware deployed the Aerial Ranger to Kenya to monitor for poachers, with Airware supplying the autopilot and control software. “The drone, equipped with Airware’s autopilot platform and control software, acts as both a deterrent and a surveillance tool, sending real-time digital video and thermal imaging feeds of animals – and poachers – to rangers on the ground using both fixed and gimbal-mounted cameras,” Airware said.
The company’s digital mapping interface has been designed for ease of use – users click a spot on the map to either get the UAV to fly there or point its camera there. Another feature is an autoland instruction. This ease of use would allow ordinary staff at Ol Pejeta to fly the UAVs.
The UAVs trialled at Ol Pejeta were able to capture real time video and thermal imaging data, allowing for day and night operation. The footage captured by the UAV could be used to identify poachers and help convict them in court. In addition to combating poaching the UAVs have the potential to cost effectively count wildlife.
While at Ol Pejeta, Airware’s flight team tested multiple airframes including conventional fixed-wing and flying-wing. One aircraft for the programme was the UAS-USA Tempest, with an endurance of 90-120 minutes, a top speed of 100 km/h and a flight range of 75-125 km.