For the past several years, anti-poaching groups have tapped into the power of drones to save rhinos and elephants in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Even in places where poaching is banned, poachers break into national parks and kill animals, contributing to the illegal wildlife trade industry that rakes in tens of billions of dollars every year.
But drones can act as a sort of high-tech park ranger, monitoring wide expanses of land to intercept poaching gangs. And their flight paths aren't random — everything is based on analytical models and massive amounts of data, including incidents of past poaching, the movement of rhinos with ankle trackers, the weather, and more.
Unfortunately, these drone programs can be very costly, and don't fit every conservation scenario (some drones' sounds can scare elephants outside park boundaries, for instance). But a couple of increasingly successful examples include the Lindbergh Foundation's Air Shepherd program and the World Wildlife Fund (with funding from Google), which continue to test solutions in various countries.
While elephant and rhino poaching might be the most visible wildlife crime issues, it's worth noting that drones also help track illegal fishing, which can deplete resources, kill off species, and affect whole ecosystems.