The Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) says it is looking to deploy the French-made Delair Tech DT-18 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to carry out surveillance operations over key national reserves to protect critically endangered elephant and rhinos from poachers.
This follows successful test-flights of the DT-18 UAV over the Tarangire National Park last week by private Tanzanian company Bathawk Recon, with Delair Tech engineers and officials from the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority participating as observers. Bathawk Recon is a private company which was set up to develop and deploy UAV surveillance systems for national parks and game reserves.
Its representative Mike Chambers said the UAV had performed to their satisfaction in both day and night surveillance operations. He said the DT 18 can fly multiple day and night missions thanks to an infrared camera.
“The idea is to have teams that can deploy widely, operate simply and cover large tracks of ground exceeding thousands of square kilometres. As the UAV flies, it sends images to our screens at the monitoring station.
“The images are clear…you could count the buffaloes, you could see they were calm, you could see their direction and even calculate their speed. With some intelligence and background, you would know when they were in danger zones, when they near vehicles or camps. This is a capability protection authorities could deploy at a day’s notice anywhere across a five thousand square kilometre ecological zone,” Chambers said.
Tanzania National Parks Authority Protection Services director Kisamo Stephen said the successful test-flights of the new UAVs provides the authority with a chance to use new technology to combat poaching.
“Technology is going to be a key factor in curbing poaching. We will put it in place and it will make the difference,” he said..
The DT-18 has a wing-span of 1.8 metres, a fuselage length of 1.2 metres, a cruise speed of 50 km/h and a maximum speed of 80 km/h. It has a fully autonomous takeoff and landing system and fully autonomous flight management system. It has a maximum payload of 300g.
The DT -18 telecom systems consists of a video transmission system which can cover up to 15 km and a command and control transmission system capable of covering 50 km. The system is fully supported via 3G and 4G internet connectivity.
TheDT-18 trials were conducted under the auspices of the (Tanzanian) Private Sector Anti Poaching Initiative which seeks to bring the private sector to participate in war against poaching.
The UAV systems will be operated by the Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) of the national parks authority. Tanzania is battling a serious rhino and elephant poaching crisis and the populations of both species have continued to decline in the last few years.
The most affected are Selous Game Reserve, Tarangire National Park and Ruaha Game Reserve.
Some 30 elephants are killed every day in Tanzania by poachers.