High-Tech Conservation: Drones & Thermal Cameras Squash Poaching

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by: Danny Clemens

Over 30,000 elephants are killed each year. #RacingExtinction with Laurens de Groot.

Posted by Discovery on Monday, November 23, 2015

Drones, thermal cameras and DNA tests might sound like the go-to tools of a bustling urban police department, but you can now also find that sophisticated technology on the front lines of the battle against wildlife poaching.

"Right now in Kruger Park in South Africa, about 1,000 rhinos are being killed each year," noted conservationist Laurens de Groot tells Discovery.

"You can calculate that, at any given time, there's about 100 poachers in the park itself -- and that's only a small fraction of Africa. So overall, you're looking at tens of thousands of poachers at any given moment in Africa."

Thanks to technology developed by de Groots' ShadowView Foundation, it's getting easier to keep an eye on those thousands of poachers and to track their movements in real time.

In a series of initiatives throughout Africa, ShadowView has sent sophisticated systems of camera traps and ground sensors that tip authorities off to the presence of poachers within a protected area. When a poacher is detected, the system sends in a drone-mounted thermal camera to either deter the poacher or capture incriminating footage that could prove integral to building a legal case against wildlife traffickers.

After an act of poaching has been committed, ShadowView's robust portfolio of forensic tools -- including DNA sample kits and gunshot residue tests -- can be used to place poachers back at the scene of their crime.

Although the technology is relatively new, it has already proven to be successful.

"One of our projects, we did in South Africa. And, you know, you're in that reserve, and [...] there's rhinos. And you know it's full moon. Full moon means blood moon in Africa," de Groot recalls.

"We knew there was an incursion. And the rangers went out trying to find the poachers, so we sent in our drone to support their work. And not only do you find the poachers, and the rangers went after them and confronted them and arrested them. You know and that feeling, when you've really made a difference, and -- and made the life of the rangers even more safe. But, you know, most of all, you made sure that that night, those rhinos are not being poached. And that's -- yeah, amazing feeling."

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On Wednesday, December 2nd, Discovery will present a global broadcast of Racing Extinction, a powerful eco-thriller that exposes issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Visit for more information.


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