"An advanced drone that can help protect elephants, rhinos and cattle."
All help is welcome in the fight against the illegal hunting of endangered animals in Africa. Students from Inholland Delft are determined to do their part, and are developing an advanced drone that can help protect elephants, rhinoceroses and cattle. They travelled to South Africa for an up-close look at their drones' future place of work.
Some parks or cattle farms in Africa are as large as an entire province in the Netherlands, which can complicate matters when trying to monitor animals. Another big problem is that poachers are active at many different locations. They steal cattle and hunt rhinos and elephants for their horns and ivory, which fetch huge prices on the black market. Rangers work night and day to keep the animals safe. It is a dangerous job, so farmers and conservationists are looking for innovative ways of keeping tabs on their animals. A remote-controlled drone is a very promising solution.
The ambitious 'Stop poaching in Africa' project required the expertise of various programmes at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. That is why Mylène Elmers (Animal Husbandry), Thom Hoveling, Fenna Kiemel and Brendan Verberne (all students of Landscape and Environment Management) worked together in one project group, supervised by alumna Vanessa Meulenberg (Aeronautical Engineering), who designed the concept. Other students from the Aeronautical Engineering programme are currently working on the wing design and a first prototype. The drone will be capable of vertical take-off and landing, and it has wings as well, in order to increase the action radius.
Trip to South Africa
Together with three LEM students, Mylène investigated how large farms and natural reserves could make use of drones. What kinds of cameras and sensors would these 'flying rangers' need to recognise wildlife that is being threatened? How can they alert animals to the presence of poachers? Furthermore, the device should be able to deter poachers and stop them from performing their illegal activities. To find answers to these questions and challenges, the students travelled to South Africa, where they visited the Kruger Park and a rhino farm, among other things. These places feature an incredibly varied landscape, which calls for several types of drones. That was the aspect that Thom, Fenna and Brendan were researching. 'When animals flee into dense vegetation, the drone would still have to be able to see them,' Mylène says. 'My area of research was the behaviour and well-being of animals'.
Working with students from different degree programmes took a bit of getting used to, according to Mylene. 'But we complemented each other quite nicely, and we all learned a lot from each other'. The students consider the project to be a great opportunity, and not just for their own personal development. 'Drones are the future. They don't just protect the animals. Our project can save human lives as well, as poachers will not hesitate to shoot a ranger'.
Read about the other projects that have been nominated for the Wij Inholland award 2017.