Album: Human-Elephant Conflict – Drone Workshop and Training

Check out pictures from the recent Human-Elephant Conflict training workshop we conducted at Tarangire National Park in partnership with the Mara Elephant Project and Tanzania’s wildlife departments: Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), and Tanzania Wildlife Division (WD). The goal of the training was to assess the viability of small quadcopter Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) as a method for mitigating human-elephant conflict (HEC). This conflict has been identified by wildlife managers as a timely threat to elephant conservation globally higher incidents of crop raiding lead to retaliatory killings of elephants and drive up poaching. The workshop was led by Marc Goss, who has trained several rangers with the Mara Elephant Project to fly similar UAV models, and was one of the first to begin using small UAVs to save elephants.

For more information on the project and trainings please contact Nathan Hahn at

The training grounds. A dried waterhole made the perfect practice spot for the rangers, with no trees and a clear view for flying. Later, we moved to an area with more trees and set up an obstacle course to hone their piloting skills. Rangers look on as Marc shows them the drone for the first time. There were 10 rangers at the training, along with officials from Tanzania's three wildlife departments. Rangers look on as Marc shows them the drone for the first time. We quickly moved on to start flying outside. Marc gives a quick safety overview. We quickly moved on to start flying outside. RESOLVE partner Marc Goss instructs a TAWIRI (Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute) ranger on landing the drone. Two TAWIRI rangers enjoy the first day of training. Dickson (Middle) is a ranger with the Mara Elephant Project who came with Marc Goss to help teach the new pilots. To help get the rangers accustomed to the controls, we'd place our thumbs on top of theirs and guide them in the proper movements for different maneuvers. A drone poses for a photo shoot. We used 4 drones in this training. When they were all up in the air over the waterhole, it could get a little crowded! Rangers flying the drone. Maintenance of the drones is very important. Rangers were taught how to clean out the motors and do a systems check after every flight session. Rangers help each other during the maintenance lesson. DSC_0070 A family group with a young calf. Tarangire is famous for its elephants,who mass near the river that provides one of the only constant sources of water during the dry season. Once the rains start, they disperse accross the rest of the ecosystem. Because of these seasonal movements, it will be important to establish wildlife corridors in the area before human development and agriculture completely surrounds the park, otherwise instances of human-elephant conflict will continue to increase.  The Tarangire river, which supports thousands of wildlife through the dry season, is on its last legs before the rains start. A mother and her calf were a little apprehensive as we drove by. Mothers are naturally on high alert when a calf is present, especially one this small. This elephant’s carcass was spotted during an elephant scouting mission in Tarangire National Park. The carcass shows the tell-tale signs of poaching: a large wound (from a bullet, in this case) and the removal of the face. The gruesome tactics used to remove the tusks, which extend back into the elephants skull, are a testament to how far these poachers will go. This is an all-too-common occurrence in this region. RESOLVE’s WildTech project is incorporating emerging technology into the fight against poachers, whose funding and equipment are quickly outpacing the rangers tasked with stopping them. Our goal is to track poachers and liaise with appropriate government enforcement to apprehend poachers before they’re able to kill an elephant. We use a variety of old and new technology, including communication and detection networks, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) and early warning systems. We found a carcass of an elephant that had been killed by poachers. This is the bullet hole. WARNING: the next photo is graphic. A giraffe framed by the sun, spotted during a scouting mission on the first evening of the training. A baobab in the evening sun. A baobab in the evening sun. Rangers practice on the second day before we head out to test the drones with elephants. Rangers practice on the second day. Hand-launching the drones is needed when flying from a vehicle. Marc Goss and the rangers prepare for the test flights. A group of bull elephants are herded by one of the drones (upper left) on the second day of the training. Back at the training grounds, the rangers worked on improving on advanced maneuvers. Rangers flying the drone. Rangers flying the drone. Rangers flying the drone. To simulate herding elephants, one ranger pretended to be an elephant as the others took turns 'herding' him around the waterhole. Rangers practice flying using only First Person View, the live feed from a camera on the drone. Two rangers share a laugh during the training. Rangers flying the drone. Two rangers fly the drone (middle, right), as Dickson (left) from the Mara Elephant Project helps them out. Rangers practicing First Person View flight. A drone poses for a photo shoot over the waterhole. A few members from a family group wander close to our camp as they browse on Acacia trees and small bushes. Elephants can spend up to 16 hours a day feeding to account for their poor digestive systems, which only process about 30% of the food they ingest. A female raises her trunk towards us. An elephant trunk contains about 100,000 different muscles! A female takes a big bite of acacia. We were close enough to watch as she used her trunk to delicately roll up branches full of toothpick-sized thorns before eating them. Marc plays with the FLIR camera. We used the infrared camera to help fly the drones at night. There was one night-flying session on the second day. Practice makes perfect. David Olson from RESOLVE pretends to be an elephant to help the rangers practice 'herding techniques'. The branch was used to simulate the height on an elephant, as you don't want to fly too low and risk hurting one. While this whole process is new, we've found that sweeping back and forth behind them in a herding fashion is the safest way to keep them moving and from turning back towards people. David Olson from RESOLVE pretends to be an elephant to help the rangers practice 'herding techniques'. The branch was used to simulate the height on an elephant. David Olson from RESOLVE pretends to be an elephant to help the rangers practice 'herding techniques'. The branch was used to simulate the height on an elephant. Group pictures! All of our training participants, from the head brass to the cooks who made all of our delicious food. We took one final evening drive through the park after wrapping up the training. We took one final evening drive through the park after wrapping up the training. We took one final evening drive through the park after wrapping up the training

UAVs have show initial promise as a tool for wildlife managers to move elephants, and with HEC threatening elephant conservation, we wanted to see if they can be used to move elephants away from farms and communities, reducing conflict and creating safer conditions for managers in the field. We conducted field trials and training for ten rangers, game officers, and game scouts at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania from November 13-17, 2014. Using two models of the DJI Phantom UAVs, we trained wildlife managers in the use of UAVs as a tool to help them achieve their mission goals. The wildlife managers were trained as pilots, gaining familiarity with the aircraft, covering pre-flight, flight, and post-flight operations, and emphasizing safety. We practiced maneuvers and tactics that are useful for moving elephants in a safe manner, including ‘herding’ maneuvers and tactics, moving vehicle deployment, and chili-powder and strobe light deployment. The wildlife managers gained a solid base of flight skills, and an understanding of what it will take to become an effective UAV pilot when working with elephants, how to maintain the equipment, and how to humanely and safely use this tool to support their missions.

One Comment

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