Air Shepherd Uses Drones To Battle African Poachers

The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd program, developed to protect elephants and rhinos from poaching by using drones, announced last week that Air Shepherd drone teams will increase patrols to look for poachers during the day who are poisoning watering holes in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. The operations are part of Air Shepherd’s collaboration with WWF.

air shepherd3 400x267 Air Shepherd Uses Drones To Battle African Poachers
Air Shepherd is using drones to monitor poachers in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa.

Air Shepherd teams typically fly drones at night when poachers operate under the cover of darkness. In Zimbabwe, where watering holes are being poisoned with cyanide, Air Shepherd teams will now also monitor during the day looking for any human activity near watering holes. The drones allow more land to be patrolled than what can be covered by on-the-ground park rangers. Suspicious activity picked up by Air Shepherd drone operators is reported to park rangers who will then intercept the criminals.

Running rivers in Hwange National Park have not existed in more than 100 years and during the dry season there is no water other than what is pumped in by the park. This creates a unique situation where elephants then congregate around these 60-80 watering holes making them easy targets—other animals are collateral damage as the poisoning lays waste to whole ecosystems. Once a watering hole is poisoned, all a poacher has to do is quietly wait for elephants to die an agonizing death before hacking off its tusks. It is likely in some cases that the elephants are still alive when tusks are removed. 

Experts believe this method of killing will continue to grow because it is “not noisy” and cyanide is easy to come by as it is used in the gold mining industry which is prevalent in Africa.

“Historically, there has been little ability for anti-poaching operations to work at night,” said Otto Werdmuller Von Elgg, head of drone operations for Air Shepherd. “You can’t see tracks, it’s difficult to see people and it’s dangerous because the anti-poaching teams can walk onto elephants, rhinos or buffaloes. Our night-time operations change the game in favor of the elephants and in the case of Zimbabwe we are in a unique position to help monitor the park during the day to spot poachers who are using cyanide.”

The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd program is unprecedented and is proving to be highly effective with drone teams having flown in South Africa and currently in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Air Shepherd drones run by UAV and Drone Solutions, Lindbergh Foundation’s principal partner—use a sensing device with thermal imaging allowing operations at night when poachers operate. The electric drones fly at distances of up to 40 km for missions that last up to three and a half hours allowing for maximum land coverage. Due to drone regulations around the world, very few are allowed to fly beyond the line of site—Air Shepherd teams are licensed to do so.

“Poachers on the run” (look for the three moving dots) in South Africa can hear Air Shepherd’s drone following them…

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About Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd Program

Developed by the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, the Air Shepherd program is using drones and data analytic capabilities to protect rhinos and elephants in Africa. Using sophisticated three-aircraft operating teams that work with rangers on the ground, drones are flown over high probable poaching areas, allowing rangers to intercept suspects before a poaching incident can take place. A 501 (c)(3) non-profit  corporation, the Lindbergh Foundation has dedicated more than 35 years to sustaining the Lindbergh legacy—using technology to help balance the effects of human development on the environment. For more information and to donate, please visit