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After a hard day’s night of protecting animals in African nations from the murderous cabals of poachers that hunt and kill these creatures in cold-blood all for a profit, wildlife conservationists need a weapon in their arsenal to carry on the good fight, especially at nighttime, where increasingly poachers have been operating under the cloak of darkness. So, what can be used for surveillance and doesn’t fatigue or need sleep like humans? Drones, of course!

Air Shepherd is a fleet of unmanned aerial drones sponsored by the Lindbergh Foundation with the simple task of exposing illegal poaching in African nations and rebuilding stability to the continent’s tourism industry, which greatly hinges on the wild animals being hunted and killed by poaching. Silent and invisible in the night sky, Air Shepherd drones are being used to track the movements of both endangered animals and hunters, relaying this information to ground enforcement teams who can then intercept and apprehend poachers before they pull the trigger.

Poaching is a monstrous plague in Africa – a $5 billion per year industry that is perpetuated by terrorist groups and corrupt governments who rely on the immense profits from this activity to conduct and fund their work. Rhinos and elephants have particularly been devastated by poaching, with an estimated 40,000 elephants slaughtered in 2015 for their ivory. Meanwhile, a lone rhino horn can go for as much as $500,000 on the Vietnamese black market.

The deaths of these animals are catastrophic on tourism, which many local economies rely upon. Statistics estimate that more than 13 million Africans are directly dependent on the wildlife that is being poached at alarming rates for their livelihood. It’s not just animals losing their lives to these poachers – hundreds of rangers have been killed defending wildlife from these hunters as well.

The Air Shepherd program hopes to turn these horrifying numbers around. With thousands of hours of test flights and extensive training for the drone teams, this three aircraft unit is partnering with rangers on the ground to get a better handle on poaching and to hopefully beat hunters to the punch. Currently, Air Shepherd is active in the KwaZulu Natal and Kruger Park regions of South Africa. The program has been so successful there that six other countries have requested the program’s drones to help them combat poaching.

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