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How technology is helping catch nighttime poachers in Africa

November 25th, 2016 at 7:30 PM

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is harnessing sophisticated technology to catch nighttime poachers in Eastern Africa.

Since the deployment of thermal imaging cameras and human detection software nine months ago, more than two dozen poachers have been arrested in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, the wildlife conservation organization announced this week. The technology has also been used to catch two other poachers at another undisclosed national park in Kenya.

In March the WWF, working with the Mara Conservancy ranger unit and the Kenya Wildlife Service, installed technology from thermal imaging specialist FLIR Systems on a mobile wildlife ranger unit. The technology was also installed, with additional human detection software, in another Kenyan park.


“Wildlife rangers now have the help they’ve desperately needed,” said Colby Loucks, WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project lead, in a press release. “This groundbreaking technology allows them to search for poachers 24 hours a day, from up to a mile away, in pitch darkness.”

Poaching poses a massive threat to African wildlife. Rhino poaching, for example, has hit a record level across the continent, and the number of savannah elephants is declining rapidly as a result of the ivory trade.

“This technology is invaluable in our night surveillance work. The ability of our rangers to distinguish potential poachers from a large distance is nothing short of remarkable,” said Brian Heath, CEO and Director of the Mara Conservancy, in the press release. “The last three people our team arrested were flabbergasted as to how they were detected.”


WWF and FLIR Systems are looking to broaden the use of thermal imaging and are working with African Parks, drone specialist UDS and Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd to install thermal imaging technology on drones. Anti-poaching drone test flights began last month in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

WWF told that it plans to use the technology in 20 additional sites in Africa and Asia.

The Wildlife Crime Technology Project is supported by a $5 million grant from Google.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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