Oct. 3 - Conservationists in Nepal are about to launch a new airborne drone to keep watch over endangered animal populations in protected national forests. Several species including tigers and rhinos are the frequent target of poachers but it's hoped the programmable drone will prove to be an effective sentinel and keep the animals safe. Rob Muir reports.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL STORY: It's light-weight, inexpensive and easy to launch, and its deployment in Nepal's Bardiya National Park is being celebrated by park officials. They see their new drone as a 21st century solution to the scourge of poaching. SOUNDBITE: LIAN PIN KOH, ECOLOGIST - SWISS FEDERAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Now you can use the drone to first monitor this forest, and if you see something that is suspicious then the rangers can send the patrols to that particular location instead of the patrols going to all the locations in the National Park. They can go now to the suspicious locations." Lian Pin Koh is one of the drone's developers. From his base in Switzerland, he was able to take existing off-the-shelf technology and make a remote controlled, pre-programmable drone capable of flying for 45 minutes over an area of a hundred hectares. It carries lithium batteries for power and a video camera for live streaming, giving park rangers a birds-eye view of activity on the ground, where poaching is a constant problem. SOUNDBITE: LIAN PIN KOH, ECOLOGIST - SWISS FEDERAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Oh, it's very easy to use, so the operators of these drones only have to make a mission on the computer to send the drones to different way points on the map, upload this mission to the drone and launch the drone by throwing it into the air and the drone will fly automatically to the different way points in this programme." Of the more than 600 animal species living in the park, there are two that are particularly vulnerable. The Indian rhino is hunted for its horn, highly valued as a traditional medicine in China while the Bengal tiger is targetted for its skin and other body parts. Occasionally, smuggled animal parts are seized and poachers caught, but most escape before their crimes are detected. The hope is that the drone will help catch them in the act and deter others from even trying...at around $2500 each, an afforable and potentially effective eye in the sky.