Serge Wich, one of the developers of the drone, explains its features to Nepal's Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation Yadu Bansa Jha. Credit: WWF Nepal
KATHMANDU, Nepal, June 21 (UPI) -- Conservationists in Nepal say they will soon start using special drones in an effort to protect endangered species from poachers.
The program will use small, pilotless aircraft developed by the global wildlife organization World Wildlife Fund for Nature.
The drones, which the WWF said are inexpensive to buy and operate, have been used in Indonesia and talks have begun about their use elsewhere, including Tanzania and Malaysia.
Light enough to be launched by hand, the drones can fly a pre-programmed route of up to 12.5 miles while filming the ground below with cameras.
In Nepal, endangered species such as rhinos and tigers are threatened by the combined impacts of poaching and habitat destruction, but the developers of the drones say the small aircraft can help.
Poachers often slaughter the animals inside Nepal's national parks.
"We hope these drones will be useful in detecting poachers as they enter the parks," Serge Wich, a University of Zurich biologist and one of the innovators behind the project, told the BBC.
"If they see poachers in the area, they can send out a team to catch them."
Test flights have been conducted in Nepal, and after training of local personnel operations should begin in a few months' time, he said.
They are powered by electric batteries which can be recharged in about half an hour, and are affordable for conservation programs in developing countries where budgets for wildlife protection tend to be modest, Wich said.
"The whole idea is that people can run them for very low cost."