Can Drones Save Elephants?

I’ve been interested in that question, along with other creative and technical solutions to rhino and elephant poaching. And Chris Spillane has a nice piece at Bloomberg that investigates:

“It’s pretty grim,” Goss, a 28-year-old Kenyan who manages the Mara Elephant Project, said as he stood 50 meters (55 yards) from the carcass. “It’s an elephant without a face. It’ll be eaten by Hyenas now.”

Poachers had speared the pachyderm in her back. Its ivory would be worth more than $8,000 inAsia. The carcass was the third found in four days, an unusually high number, Goss said. One was shot with an automatic rifle and the other animal was also pierced.

When he started using the drones, Goss thought they would help mainly with providing aerial footage of the landscape and tracking poachers armed with rifles and the Maasai who sometimes killed the animals when they interfere with the grazing of their cows. He soon discovered they could help by frightening the elephants, keeping them out of harm’s way.

“We realized very quickly that the elephants hated the sound of them,” said Goss, whose week-old beard goes white near his temples. “I’m assuming that they think it’s a swarm of bees.”

Goss and his team have put collars with global positioning system devices on 15 elephants so they can be tracked on a computer overlaying their paths on Google Earth. That way the animals, who have names such as Madde, after Goss’s wife, Fred, Hugo and Polaris, can be followed to see if they’ve strayed into areas at risk of poaching or human conflict.

Goss hopes to buy 10 more drones and to modify them by adding a mechanism that releases capsaicin, the active component in chili pepper, when elephants stray near dangerous areas.Paint balls loaded with chili pepper are being used in Zambia’s lower Zambezi region to deter elephants from high-risk zones.

“Drones are basically the future of conservation; a drone can do what 50 rangers can do,” said James Hardy, a fourth-generation Kenyan and manager of the Mara North Conservancy. “It’s going to reach a point where drones are on the forefront of poaching. At night time we could use it to pick up heat signatures of poachers, maybe a dead elephant if we’re quick enough.”

It’s always interesting to see the different and surprising ways in which technical solutions will take you. And as depressing as it is that saving an elephant from poachers means harassing it with a drone and chili pepper, I guess an annoyed or uncomfortable elephant is better than a dead elephant. You do what you gotta do in this fight.

Poaching To Extremes: Museum Ivory Edition

Jacques Cuisin, head of restoration at Paris’s Natural History Museum, said the damaged elephant skeleton would be repaired. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

The rhino and elephant horn poaching has got so out of hand, that even museum ivory is being targeted. Witness the recent attempt to escpae with the chainsawed tusk of an elephant once owned by Louis XIV, and on display at Paris’ Natural History Museum.

Really:

Visitors to Paris’s popular Museum of Natural History this weekend found a key exhibit under wraps after a man broke in and chainsawed a tusk from an elephant which once belonged to the Sun King, Louis XIV.

Police were called to the museum in the early hours of Saturday morning where they found a chainsaw still whirring after a man in his 20s escaped over a wall with a tusk over his shoulder. A police official said a neighbour of the museum on Paris’s Left Bank alerted authorities after hearing a strange sawing sound at around 3am. The museum alarm system was activated and startled the intruder into fleeing just minutes after beginning his chainsaw attack. He was treated in hospital for a fractured ankle from a fall while escaping and was being questioned by investigators.

Better keep an eye on your pianos. The only thing that has a hope of stopping this is a strictly enforced Chinese government ban on any and all ivory. But is any government, including the US, pressing this?

9/19/2012 Tumblr Rumblr

Today the Tumblr site produced:

Sh*t GMO Companies Say. Who knew food engineering could be funny (and scary)?

a beautiful photo of a Galapagos seal contemplating a Galapagos crab.

–And a look at Nat Geo’s detailed and sobering investigation into the connection between religion and the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.

See you tomorrow, and don’t forget to check out the Tim Zimmermann, Writer Facebook page.