How UAVs (Air Rangers) effectively deter rhino poachers

Air Rangers, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles can stop poaching, if there are enough of them with the right hi-tech equipment, thermal imaging cameras.

In times of war UAVs have been strategically used to gain an advantage over the enemy. Maybe the Air Ranger can do the same in our war to save the rhino from the sophisticated efforts of the modern day crime syndicate poacher!

1 – How is the Air Ranger different than other drones?

2 – How can and does it stop poachers before they make a kill?

3 – Why aren’t there more Air Rangers in the sky?


Peter Milton (SPOTS – Strategic Protection of Threatened Species) and his team of experts are on the cutting edge of stopping the poachers before they make the kill. Close to 100 rhino have already fallen (to date this year) and their horns whipped off to Asia via the illegal trade, crime syndicates, wildlife trafficking networks.

The Air Ranger, a customized unmanned aerial vehicle, was designed and developed by SPOTS specifically to be effective in the South African bush to apprehend poachers.

NIKELA is asking for donations to fund an Air Ranger, to stop the poachers. We’ve had folks ask why they are so expensive. Fully equipped an Air Ranger can cost up to $65,000, while other conservation drones range between $1,500 and $3,500.

The big difference is in the technology. The Air Ranger is equipped with technology 100 times more effective than the cheaper drones. Peter tells us that the basic frame of the Air Ranger costs as little as $500, it’s the hi-tech computerized surveillance, imaging and automated equipment that is expensive.

The basic drone like the WWF uses flies during daylight hours for around 30 minutes and has a range of about 2 to 3 kilometers (1.2 to 1.8 miles.) Now if that’s all you need that’s fine, however, when do poachers do their damage? At night! How much ground needs to be covered? A whole lot more than a couple of miles!

The Air Ranger uses “very sophisticated flight computers and auto-pilots because we need to fly pre-programmed grids (and be able to alter those simply by touching a point on Google earth. We also need to fly for extended time frames and ranges. Our ground station equipment to handle communications with the aircraft, live video streaming etc. has to be very sophisticated,” Peter informs us.

Undoubtedly the most pricy piece of equipment on the Air Ranger is the thermal imaging camera ($12,000). The specific type of camera used is of military grade.

Why so sophisticated? Peter tells us, “Sure there are very basic thermal imaging cameras for much less….but we need to know, at night, who of the people we pick up on thermal are armed – and even with what rifle. We will obviously need to be more concerned with a guy carrying an AK47 than a hunting rifle.”

Not only is the Air Ranger equipped with hi-tech cameras to apprehend rhino poachers, but also to save anti-poaching rangers’ lives.

According to Peter, the Air Ranger is the top dog when it comes to wildlife conservation UAVs. “There is nothing in comparison in terms of sophistication and capability other than military systems…and any one of them is around 3 to 4 times the price. We have evaluated most, if not all of them, out there.”


With the Air Ranger being capable of so much more, what impact can it have to stop the poachers before they kill? We might ask, how well is anything working right now to curb the poachers, after all we keep hearing the horrible death count. What about those that are saved?

Peter tells us, “We unfortunately don’t have a good idea of what the poaching rate would be without all the effort going into rhino protection and conservation…but it would undoubtedly be way, way higher.”

What exactly can and does the Air Ranger do?

It can fly high and quiet, “seeing” poachers without being seen as it can ascertain the difference between four and two legged forms.

The Air Ranger can determine the poachers‘ position, number and weaponry which provides the rangers with important INTEL to move in.

The Air Ranger can also fly low and “loud” with LED lights on to show a presence and deter poachers.

We asked Peter what about helicopters, and he told us that the Air Ranger is able to detect them and ground vehicles both day and night.


The Air Ranger to date has been funded by Peter and his team at SPOTS. There is no huge foundation or grant to get more of these drones into the sky to stop the poachers. It’s an opportunity for us, ordinary folk who care, to help.

Although it is depressing when the poaching numbers keep climbing… “we have to give these technologies and other efforts and systems a chance to work and gain momentum. We believe, that in a way, the sydicates are trying to max their efforts and stockpiling horn before all the counter- measures, UAV included, become truly effective,” says Peter.

We invite you to join us stop the poachers via the use of Air Rangers. Your donation of any size will help… thank you.

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9 Responses to How UAVs (Air Rangers) effectively deter rhino poachers

  1. Mr Inges Rand February 18, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    Are these drones now being flown legally ?
    Surely they must be, otherwise you are seeking donations to fund an illegal activity?

    • Wildlife Margrit February 18, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Great question Inges. We asked Peter, here is his response:

    • “We do not have a problem with Air Ranger as we operate below the ceiling where CAA regulations currently present a problem. The big systems that fly very high do have a problem with current legislation…we don’t. It is just another reason why the high altitude military drone systems don’t suit our needs.”
    • Would love to include your contribution (of any amount) to the project 😉

  • Mike February 19, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Interesting article…someone bought a $100 skywalker and sold the idea to some NGO tree hugger that they had the ultimate drone deterrent to prevent poaching at only $65 000.00…the mind boggles just how gullible some folks are.
    For $2000 one can get a off the shelf solution which can fly up to 45km from home sending realtime data back and this system can also be flown using a $250 apm2.5 board with 999 waypoints…$65 000.00 go for it?

  • Ken Stacey March 27, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I have also estimated that before 2020 the rhino will be extinct using almost identical data and assumptions as you.
    UAVs are the obvious answer and I do understand why you cannot get funding from the gaggle of fund raisers including WWF and Endangered Wildlife Trust who profess to be working to save the rhino.I am not at all impressed by this lot including CITES. Have you had any luck in raising funds?
    If you are in business, so to speak, I would very much like to help but being a pensioner my resources are very limited.
    Please let me know the current position.
    Best Regards and Best of Luck

    • Wildlife Margrit March 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      Ken thank so much for reaching out. Nikela is but a small public charity, however, we are pleased with the constant response by visitors from around the world who take a minute to donate a few dollars. In our book every donation counts. So to answer your question, yes, we are raising funds to assist Peter and his team. Would we like to do more? Of course.

  • Nicholas Milne September 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Fantastic to hear how well you guys are doing, having been actively involved in anti-poaching in the Bumi Hills Area on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe I know exactly how important eyes in the sky are… We have been looking at all the various drone options on the market to bolster our team on the ground so I am very interested to find out more about the Air Ranger… Would really appreciate if you could email me some more info or put me in touch with Peter directly!

    Thanks in advance and keep up the fantastic work!

    • Wildlife Margrit September 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Great to hear from you Nicholas. Will get you connected.

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