Wednesday, May 17, 2017

UAV Anti-Poaching Surveillance – Does it work?

To answer the question does UAV anti-poaching work perhaps it’s best to bracket what we are trying to get at. On the one hand, and on first glance, it seems a no-brainer: The drones fly over; they survey the ground; their data reveal the poachers. Done deal. Explain it to someone and they understand before your second sentence.
At the other end of the bracket you have General Jooste, head of anti-poaching at Kruger National Park in South Africa, laying down his categoric view that drone surveillance has not resulted in any (i.e. not one!) poacher arrests. Kruger is one of the leading, if not the leading, areas for UAV anti-poaching work. If there is an expert in this field, Jooste is he.
So what is going on?
A clue to sorting out this conundrum is Dr. Nir Tenenbaum’s recent interview. Tenenbaum is an expert too and here he drills down into the detail that’s needed to get an answer to our question. It turns out just flying a drone with a camera isn’t enough. A lot of projects seem to have had eureka moments, snatched up the first drone with a camera and rushed off to Africa. What they didn’t do, and what one notes online reading about the operations, is to synch their technology, their concept and Africa’s formidable scale.
Dr. Tenenbaum points out that a lot of UAV anti-poaching projects are actually doing what we at Bathawk call “Direct Ranger Support” and Dr. T. calls “Response Missions”. Let’s be clear, such capability could be VERY advantageous and helpful to anti-poaching efforts. However as they are in support of rangers, rather than the lead element, they reflect or even magnify any weakness of a particular ranger service’s capacity. They extend ranger’s eyes, they facilitate pursuit, but they don’t actually find poachers. Thus General Jooste’s statement.
Leaving the Tactical and moving to the Strategic.
The implication of the present state of technology is that the capacity to “Detect Humans”, across the areas anti-poaching requires, is quite different from what is required for the Response Mission. Following a person is quite a bit easier than finding one and finding a person in the bush is the crucial issue in a strategic UAV anti-poaching surveillance service. A service which provides the essential intelligence to rangers, rather than vice versa. The technology to do this is there but requires a larger aircraft with a greater payload.
That sounds expensive; and it’s true the capital cost of the strategic option would be a multiple of the tactical; but the bigger aircraft flies higher, sees further, spends longer in the air and has a greater range. When you add it all up, and do the calculation based square kilometers over the life of an aircraft, it turns out the strategic model is actually cheaper – considerably.
Each model also requires a concept that details how the equipment and operators would be organized to effectively deliver their service to rangers. Training, transport, logistics and maintenance all need to be worked into a package that fit the landscape and ranger operations. It may be easier at first go to add a tactical UAV to a ranger patrol, but if you want a plan to deliver aerial reconnaissance across multiple protected areas each with thousands of square kilometers the tactical model turns out to be problematic in the extreme.
Bathawk Recon’s “Big Ground” concept integrates the Super Bat DA-50 with the TASE200 EO/IR gimbal and a strategic, replicable concept. This is a plan that reconciles what General Jooste and Dr. Tenenbaum are saying with the title of this essay. UAV Anti-Poaching Surveillance: Yes it can work.

Imagine an African Morning

Imagine an African morning, the sun rising over the plains. A shuffling family of elephants discover their matriarch dead on the ground. The smell of blood and the sight of the fallen leader causes a palatable anguish within the herd. A low, guttural moaning ripples through the family as they try to understand what has happened. The older members approach cautiously and gently nudge the carcass.
The scene is heartbreaking and yet it happens every day.
Elephants are highly intelligent animals that display complex social behaviors. They have greeting ceremonies, they share vocal and scent communication. Like humans, they are social. They play. They court their mate. Individuals combine into communities over time. When they find bones of their families, perhaps years after they had been killed, they hold the bones in a mysterious and sensitive contemplation. Much like we humans will respect the ashes of our own loved ones.
Elephants realize that they are under attack, to the point where their genetic makeup is modifying. Some research says the number of tuskless elephants is on the increase and though science can’t yet prove the cause, one might imagine it to be such a morning, and so many more like it.

The Conservation Clock is Ticking

The first thing I do every morning is go online and check my search alerts. And almost without fail, I find news that our iconic species are in ever greater danger. Today I see Indian and West and Central African lions are being put on the endangered list. Historians tell us lions lived all through southern Europe and south western Asia in historical times. But it is only now, with lions and other iconic species looking at extinction in the face, that we are bringing our institutional, promotional and technical capabilities to their aid, rather than demise.
How to deliver that aid is a big question. It involves global trends, complex environmental issues and endless discussions between actors, in which compromise, rather than urgency, are the most accurate descriptor. And we can’t wait and develop a new and improved paradigm for bringing change, because in that delay, we will certainly lose them. Imagine the legacy of our generation being that we lost Rhinos, Elephants and even Lions, forever.
At Bathawk Recon, we have identified what we believe will be an effective, and eventually essential, anti poaching surveillance tool in our Big Ground Concept. This idea Read more should allow fewer rangers to cover greater stretches of ground, while also integrating them into solution oriented operations. There are a number of choke points on the wildlife trafficking market chain where strong effective solutions could make all the difference. We believe that our concept is one were concerted action will bring maximum effect.
So we get up every day and after noting the trend is ever more dangerous, we look at our task list and take the next step to deploy our part of what we see as the solution. We are small, but we have a good idea and we are very confident that we are the right people to get it done. It is a big issue, it is complex. Some parts are opaque, but not our part. Our part is definable, manageable, supportable and deployable. Our plans are laid out and ready to go.
The conservation clock for these species is ticking. Help us bring UAV anti poaching surveillance to the field with your donation. This is part of a solution that needs to be put into operation without delay. And we are working to deploy it. Everyday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Davos and the Debate on African Agriculture

Davos is a good idea: A tool to get all the heavyweights on the same page. And that, in all practicality is crucial in today’s world. But sometimes the chatter is so self absorbed, it is hard, even for a realist, not to despair. Take Jasmine Whitbread’s latest blog “Changing the Debate on Agriculture”. Now here is a good intentioned woman, CEO of a major charity, involved with development work around the world. One imagines from the title, a new agenda to reformulate the effort to realize the latent human and economic potential waiting to be unleashed.
What do we get?

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Changing Development Agenda is Getting Uncomfortable

Getting a clear picture of how the Aid business works, or should work, is a difficult proposition.  One thing is certain: it’s in the process of change. In Africa, resources like oil and gas, sprouting democracies and a growing middle class have created a completely changed picture from the post Cold War home of famine and despair that characterized the first Millennium Development Goal discussions.  The second MDG round coming up in 2015 is naturally generating a lot of preparatory debate – undoubtedly a very healthy exercise. But as the pundits juggle the concepts, some of the guests of honor seem to be getting uncomfortable and wriggling in their seats.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tanzania Food Processing: Let’s Get Competitive!

Agricultural Development policies across Africa are designed to increase production thereby jacking up farmer incomes.  Another way of looking at it is finding ways to encourage agricultural buyers to buy more. Buyers are in business and will buy more if they can sell more.  And they will sell more if the market considers their products have good value.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Does Tanzania Land Data Tell the Full Story?

Like the red soil flowing through Dicaprio’s fingers in the last scenes of “Blood Diamond,” there are few topics more evocative of the conflicts and complexities of Africa at the crossroads as “The Land”. It would seem a wonder that within a single syllable you could fit so much history, loss, hope and opportunity. Land-Grabbing is today’s defining issue, and certainly in urgent need of attention and consensus, but the debate seems disturbingly disengaged. Like a Russian arguing with an Inuit, neither having a clue what the other is saying, and more worrying perhaps, not caring.