Not All Bad: Airborne Drones Can Also Help Protect Endangered Species

Poachers in Nepal often kill endangered species in national parks. Now the World Wildlife Fund is using unmanned drones to help help track them down.

When you hear the word "drone," your mind probably goes straight to drone strikes in Pakistan, or other highly secretive military maneuvers. The World Wildlife Fund, though, has started putting drones to use for a completely different cause: protecting endangered species in Nepal.

The problem in Nepal is that poachers are killing endangered species like tigers and rhinos, oftentimes within the boundaries of national parks. So the WWF decided to develop pilotless aerial vehicles that Nepalese conservationists can use to monitor national parks for poachers. These "conservation drones" can fly preprogrammed routes of up to 12.5 miles, and they're surprisingly convenient; they’re light enough that they can be launched by hand, and unlike military drones, which can cost millions of dollars, they come with a relatively low price tag of $2,500. They’re also powered by rechargeable electric batteries, which helps keep them affordable for cash-strapped conservationists.

Since that almost sounds too good to be true, it’s worth noting that conservationists in Nepal still need to spend a few months learning how to use them (and no matter how light or cheap they are, the technology looks kind of complicated). Still, similar drones have already proved useful for tracking orangutans in Indonesia, and others have been deployed to monitor wildlife in Malaysia and Tanzania. And any time technology generally used by the military can be put toward conservation, that’s a win for all involved.

Photo via Conservation Drones