The Lindbergh Foundation's Air Shepherd Initiative has launched missions in South Africa that protect elephants and rhinos from poachers - and they're doing it in a pretty innovative way. 

"We use drones that can fly at night and find poachers before they kill. It works. We've tested it. The poaching stops."

Combating Record Highs

Air Shepherd drone teams go through months of extensive training and are deployed into areas known to have illegal poaching. The infrared-capable drones fly silently at night when poachers operate. Once poachers are spotted on screens in the operation vehicles, rangers are sent to the area to intercept them.

“We are thrilled that our drone teams are fully operational,” said John Petersen, chairman of the board of the Lindbergh Foundation. “The poaching of wildlife has hit record highs and we have come to a critical juncture where action must be taken. Fortunately, many other African countries recognize this and have reached out to the Lindbergh Foundation with interest in implementing Air Shepherd pilot programs.”

Elephant and rhino poaching is particularly deadly in Africa. The decline of these animals hurts tourism, which local economies rely on. To that end, poaching has produced a lethal cycle of instability in many regions. It’s estimated that more than 13 million Africans are directly dependent on wildlife for their livelihood.

In addition to what they do for the animal populations, the Air Shepherd drones offer more protection to rangers who, while patrolling at night, are exposed to a high level of danger from armed poachers and wild animals. Hundreds of rangers have been killed battling armed poachers.

Expanding the Program

After extensive testing, it has been shown that, when Air Shepherd drones are flying, poaching is dramatically reduced. That said, while Air Shepherd teams are a highly effective tool, they must work in conjunction with other methods to combat poaching and ultimately bring about its end. Additionally, many more teams are needed to address the wide-spread problem. Air Shepherd is therefore actively discussing expansion with officials in five other countries.

The official launch of the Air Shepherd program follows two years of development and more than 1,000 hours of test flights. 

As of now, the Air Shepherd program is active in areas of Kruger Park and KwaZulu Natal, in South Africa. Air Shepherd is also working with officials in six other African countries who have requested help in the fight against poaching. 

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