So what do you do when the people trying to prevent poaching are understaffed, underfunded and swamped by a growing problem? Bring in technology to give a helping hand of course.
The latest ranks to be joining the leagues of wildlife patrols across the country are undercover robots. They aren’t quite the Terminator of robots, instead think more a remote-controlled taxidermied decoy to distract poachers and gain crucial evidence. They may not look much but they have an enviable track record of successes.
After being tipped off about potential poaching in an area, officials can bring in their robot comrades. They then place the bot as a decoy in an open area. These bots are designed to move like the real deal; with remote controlled heads, ears, tails and a base along aluminium tracking which allows them to move they can easily be mistaken for actual game animals. Once in position officials can slip away to a nearby truck and wait to fool the poachers. When the poacher fires upon the decoy, the waiting officials can arrest them in the act and with solid evidence.
This is massively important in the fight against poaching as often there is little evidence to gain a prosecution. There are normally no witnesses and evidence can be easily destroyed. Now however courts have ruled that if somebody shoots at a decoy they are in violation of the law.
For anyone doubting the effectiveness of these taxidermied robots, an example of the important role they play occurred in January. Two poachers were caught spotlighting and shooting a robo-deer in Maryland, last October. This allowed officers to arrest the pair and gain a positive prosecution against them which included their hunting licences being revoked.
Of course these robots have some limitations. For one they are expensive; a robo-moose could set you back around $5,000. That’s a lot of money for many cash-strapped organisations. You then have to take into account upkeep costs, obviously shot at animals have to be repaired and they also need their movements updating to keep poachers on their toes.
There is however seemingly no limit to the movements these robots are capable of. One manufacturer Custom Wildlife Robotics has just finished a robo-deer that lifts its white tail up and poops out brown M&Ms.
So are they worth it? These robots are expensive, however they are also durable and can potentially be shot hundreds of times but still appear intact. Yes they do need constant updating, but as poaching protections evolve so do poachers whichever method is used to prevent it. The main positive about these robots is the money they can generate. Wildlife agencies stand to make up to $30,000 in fines per decoy, that’s a huge profit which can towards funding other conservation activities. Perhaps also most importantly, if poachers are shooting robots it means they aren’t shooting the real, live animal.