Across Africa and Asia, an illegal trade worth $7 to $10 billion annually is threatening to annihilate elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, and others of the world's biggest and most beautiful species. Conservation groups and governments are struggling to police the poachers and protect the animals, but the stretches of wild land they must patrol are far too big for their resources; will too little oversight, poachers are able to kill and trade undetected.
Biologists and conservation groups have found reason to hope they can stop the bloodshed: drones, or, more generally, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The World Wildlife Fund has seen in UAVs the potential to scan large areas for poachers, and earlier this year launched a pilot program in Nepal to try them out. And now, with $5 million in funding from Google, the WWWF will be able to expand its conservation-drone program at four (so-far unnamed) sites in Africa and Asia. The money was given as part of the first round of Google's Global Giving Awards and will also go toward a tagging system and analytical software that will help rangers monitor wildlife and illegal logging across huge landscapes.