The African continent is littered with the carcasses of elephants, rhinoceros and other species that poachers are slaughtering to the point of near-extinction. An August 2011 article in Vanity Fair estimated that the elephant population in Africa during the 1970s and 1980s was cut from 1.3 million to roughly 600,000. This time is commonly referred to as the "great elephanticide."
In recent years, it has been estimated that there are 36,500 elephants poached on the continent for their ivory tusks every year. As the article explains, the rapid growth of the middle class in China has placed a premium on ivory and and animal skins, and poachers are all too willing to accommodate the increasing demand.
Johnny Rodrigues, a conservationist in Zimbabwe, told the news source about a watering hole from which all manner of creature drink.
"Elephant, giraffe, zebras, sable, kudu, warthog, baboons, buffalo, even hyenas and jackals – all your different species came, and each took its turn to take a drink," he said. "It was like Noah's Ark. And after all had a drink they came back a second time, each in its turn. And you say to yourself, Why can't humans learn from that? We'd kill each other to get to the water."
Now, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is taking a technology commonly associated with targeted killings and trying to prevent villainous criminals from poaching these majestic animals into extinction.
With a recent infusion of $5 million from Google's Global Giving Awards, the WWF is using unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known today as drones, to monitor and report illegal poaching activities across both Africa and Asia. The idea, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, is to detect and deter this criminal activity. With too few resources and such wide expanses of land, drones can cover ground that conservation and animal rights groups simply cannot.
But, unlike the drones used in military applications, these ones are unarmed. Thanks to state-of-the-art metal joining methods, the unmanned vehicles are lightweight, maneuverable, durable, and possibly a last line of defense for these endangered animals.