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Drones to combat wildlife poachers in Malawi




China’s ambassador to Malawi have gifted the country two drones tasked with fighting poachers who are threatening the survival of the African nation’s rapidly declining wildlife.

The Chinese ambassador was quoted in the Nyasa Times saying: “This is the technology that has helped us in the monitoring of our wildlife, this will help Malawi in dealing with poaching.”

Drones have an inherent advantage over human rangers in monitoring wildlife in that they can cover a lot more ground in a shorter period of time. New software have been developed that enable the drones to identify poachers from high in the sky and track the movements of groups of wildlife.

In other African nations battling poaching, the simple addition of drone patrols at nights that shine their lights at would-be poachers have caused many of them to give up and run away.

The main animals with populations considered under threat in Malawi are elephants, rhinos and lions. The problem has gotten so serious that Malawi have started importing animals from South Africa including 500 elephants and other ‘big five’ animals to maintain the country’s tourism industry.

In 2016, the World Bank produced a report showing Malawi had one of lowest per person incomes in the world with average citizen taking home less thanΒ US$1,045 per year. Against this backdrop, poaching can be an attractive option for some Malawians who stand to make comparatively enormous sums from dealing in illegal wildlife goods. In Kenya, terrorist group Al Shabab are reported to earn between $200,000 and $600,000 USD per month from the illegal ivory trade.

Confiscated ivory piles in Malawi. Credit: Nyasa Times

Despite China’s gift, ironically, many of the animals that are hunted and killed in African nations are slaughtered to feed demand for China’s massive illegal wildlife trade. China has a flourishing ivory business as well as a thriving traditional medicine market. Among the many bizarre animals parts that people consume, wealthy Chinese patrons will pay hundreds of dollars to buy a variety of animal penises (including from tigers) and eat them based on the belief that doing so will restore their masculine energy or ‘yang’.

In the past decade, China have made overtures to many African nations. In Malawi, they have paid for the country to build a parliament as well as conference centers and other infrastructure. Proponents of China would state that this is their way of building their soft power while critics of the regime posit that China’s purpose in the region is simple resource extraction and a type of neo-imperialism. China denies these allegations.

To learn more about organisations fighting animal poaching in Africa please see:

Save the Rhino

Save the Elephants

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