Google to Fund Anti-Poaching Drones in Asia, Africa

Google and the WWF say the drones can help law enforcement track poachers and endangered animals.

In this photo taken Dec. 3, 2012, Blake Dinkin, left, watches as a Thai mahout feeds Meena, a 12-year old elephant with coffee beans mixed with fruits at an elephant camp in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.
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Google and the World Wildlife Fund have teamed up to begin flying drones over parts of Africa and Asia in an attempt to monitor and catch wildlife poachers who kill endangered tigers, rhinos, and elephants, the WWF announced this week.

These "conservation drones" can be launched by hand and can fly for about an hour in areas where poachers are suspected. They will allow park rangers and law enforcement to track poachers through tough-to-reach places. Google's $5 million grant will allow the WWF to expand the drones' use. A number of the devices are already flying above parts of Nepal's national parks.

"We face an unprecedented poaching crisis. The killings are way up," Carter Roberts, president of the WWF said in a released statement. "We need solutions that are as sophisticated as the threats we face. This pushes the envelope in the fight against wildlife crime."

[PHOTOS: Christmas Around the World 2012]

According to the WWF, the grant will be used on both "aerial survey systems" and wildlife tagging technology, which would allow drones to automatically track certain endangered species.

The drones are launched from mobile command centers, where law enforcement can control their flight paths. According to the WWF, a drone can "detect poachers and tagged animals on the ground and relay data to the command center and mobile law enforcement units to determine an interception course."

Illegal animal trade is estimated to be a $10 billion industry worldwide.

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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.