Rwanda: Drone Technology to Monitor Wildlife in Akagera Park

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Park rangers and warders will no longer have to worry about the hustle involved with monitoring of fauna in Akagera National Park, thanks to a drone whose design is nearly complete in the United States.

The drone is being developed by Alger-Meyer and Nathan Lepore, both aged 18.

The two teens, who are based in Colorado, drew the idea of building a drone for the park from the difficulty that rangers endure while trying to patrol and protect the lions, elephants and leopards, among other game in Akagera National Park-often done on foot.

According to Akagera park manager Jes Gruner, the two students were part of a group that visited the park last summer, a trip that was organised by a Denver-based Global Livingston Institute, an international development NGO.

Founded in 2009 by Jamie Van Leeuwen, the Global Livingston Institute wants to bring together Americans, Rwandans and Ugandans to consider the problems they share and what they can learn from each other about finding solutions.

“When they returned to the US, to my surprise I received an e-mail from the young men, telling me that they wanted to build a drone and donate it to Akagera. In fact, they asked if that was okay, and I told them it was absolutely fine as long as it was just not a matter of donating but donating something that is of great help,” said Gruner.

“We have been using helicopters, hiring photographers to get pictures and footages of the park, animal counting and other patrols, and it has been quite hard getting to some areas. The drones will help us cut the cost in our daily operations.”

The drone is being developed at a robotics lab at the Denver School of Science and Technology.

“Akagera’s rangers deal with a lot more difficult problems than we do, and with very limited resources,” Alger-Meyer is quoted by agencies as having said.

He said he had not been particularly interested in conservation before visiting Akagera, but from his trip to Rwanda, he returned with a new perspective.

“Seeing how (rangers) operated such a vast park with limited resources, that kind of problem solving they do intrigues me,” Alger-Meyer said.

‘Finishing touches’

Alger-Meyer, it is said, is slated to enroll in aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado next year. His colleague, Lepore, has been accepted into Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering Programme.

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