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High-tech conservation

A little more than a generation ago, a notebook and pencil were the main tools for field science and wildlife monitoring. How times have changed, says Peter Borchert

Portable computers coupled with advanced cell and satellite communication are now the driving force behind conservation strategies, enabling innovative scientists and wildlife protection authorities to act more swiftly.

An alarm goes off deep in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, in a command centre with 300 CCTV monitors. A red light flashes on one of the screens. An operator zooms in and sees a thermal image of several humans. Within minutes a drone takes off. Guided unerringly by precise coordinates, its thermal software soon has the suspects in ‘sight’. The suspects can hear the UAV but cannot see it. Alarmed, they move quickly, seeking the cover of thicker bush, but the continuing thermal glimpses are all the drone needs to keep up. Meanwhile, a police helicopter team has arrived. The chopper’s powerful searchlights pin the men to the spot. Minutes later it is all over: the armed intruders are under arrest before they have tracked and killed a rhino.

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