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These ground-breaking drones want to prevent rhino poaching in SA

Are drones, 3D printers, crowdfunding and supercomputers enough to prevent wildlife poaching? This ambitious initiative believes they just might be.

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It sounds like an excerpt out of a Buzzword Weekly: Ground operators are equipped with 3D printers to have spare parts on-demand, while the drones fly around in SA’s skies following routes based on algorithms, which are churned by supercomputers back in the States. Importantly, however, these methods seem to pay-off.

The initiative is called Air Shepherd (not to be confused with the eco-extremist the Sea Shepherd of Whale Wars) and backed by the 35-year-old NPO, the Lindbergh Foundation.

According to the organisation, using drones and sophisticated algorithms have been in testing for the last two years in southern Africa.

The team has also partnered with the University of Maryland in the US which is behind the ground-breaking code responsible for the drones’ flight patterns, finding out where the elephants and rhinos hangout.

The code integrates several factors such as the poachers’ known past behaviours, terrain information (elevation data, trafficability data), and the movement patterns of the animals. It’s also said to be based on the same tech that was used to predict where roadside bombs would be placed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 93% accuracy.

Air Shepherd isn’t the first initiative to look to drones as a means of deterring poaching in the African Bush. In 2013, Google donated US$5-million to the World Wildlife Federation in an effort to fund a drone program aimed at relieving poaching in areas such as Nepal and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Air Shepherd will now see the Lindbergh Foundation partnering with several organisations based in South Africa to combine their experience and skills in a joint effort to maximise the use of drone technology in the fight against wildlife crime.

In a mission to raise half a million big ones, Air Shepherd is throwing a crowdfunding party where you can pledge anything from US$10 to US$25 000.

Update: The article has been updated to include the updated video of Air Shepherd.

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