Among the many initiatives underway to save the decreasing elephant population, these drones might be the most impressive.
Elephants are notorious for wandering away from protected spaces and national parks in search of newly-grown crops. One hungry mammal can be devastating for a farmer’s crop, leading villagers to throw stones or attack the elephants. Some farmers have even allowed poacher intervention to eliminate the threat of crop damage.
The Air Shepherd drone program, however, has found that the employment of remote-controlled drones has had 100% success rate in effectively herding elephants away from local farms.
The Air Shepherd drones can be flown at night – which is when poachers are the most active – or during the day. In some areas where human-elephant conflict is prevalent, Air Shepherd utilizes quadcopter drones that sound like bees. Since elephants hate bees, one small drone can scare an entire herd of elephants away from villages where people might shoot the animals in order to protect their crops.
While drones alone are not the answer, the drones can give rangers eyes in the sky by feeding thermal images to operators on the ground. Air Shepherd is currently working with USC’s artificial intelligence department to develop software that will assist in spotting poacher activity so the responsibility does not fall completely on the operator monitoring the screen.
Despite the success of Air Shepherd, however, they lacked valuable funding – until now.
Scott Struthers, a Southern California businessman and co-founder of Sonance, first visited Africa with his biologist father when he was just 15 years old. Decades later, when he brought his own teenage daughter to the magical continent, he was devastated by the severe drop in elephant populations.
Because of how this dire situation weighed on his mind, he became especially inspired help organizations like Air Shepherd.
Struthers then founded Elephant Cooperation, a nonprofit organization that supports projects helping to fight elephant extinction. The organization’s other initiatives include building community greenhouses, wells, supporting rangers, and building fencing to minimize human-elephant conflict.
“We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to projects that will help save elephants from extinction,” said Struthers. “We recognize that there are already so many fantastic projects making headway in this area — like the Air Shepherd program. With our contribution, they can continue to make a difference. I think corporations need to take on a bigger role in financing these efforts as individual donations are difficult to sustain.”
“We are very grateful that many African governments are leading the way by allowing our drones to fly,” said Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg, head of the Air Shepherd drone program. “Cooperation and a pro-active stance from these officials are what will ultimately lead to preventing these magnificent creatures from going extinct.”
Currently, Elephant Cooperation is raising money by partnering with Shoes For Crews: a company that provides slip-resistant footwear worldwide. The company recently underwent a rebranding and after CEO, Stuart Jenkins, learned about Elephant Cooperation’s efforts (Scott, Stuart and Scott’s business partner attended college together), he made the decision to donate 400,000 pairs of shoes to the effort.
Together, along with the head of Air Shepherd’s operations, Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg, they will be reselling the footwear in Africa with funds going directly towards supporting drone operations in Botswana. To date, the effort has raised $70,000, with an expectation of at least several hundred thousand more by the end of the year.
“We save lives every day at Shoes for Crews because we make shoes designed specifically to keep hard workers safe on their feet,” said CEO Stuart Jenkins. “While I didn’t expect to be saving the lives of elephants, we are all thrilled that our mission of safety aligns so well with Elephant Cooperation and that we have this opportunity to keep the elephants safe too.”
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