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WWF keeps elephants safe by scaring the bejeezus out of them with drones

A little under a year ago, Google hooked up the World Wildlife Foundation with a $5 million dollar grant as part of its Global Impact Awards – a program that provides support to organizations using technology and innovative approaches to address global issues. With this grant money, the WWF purchased a small fleet of surveillance drones. Their plan? Use them to create an advanced anti-poaching system.

And that’s exactly what they did. Using a combination of remote aerial survey systems, wildlife tagging technology, and advanced analytical software, the organization was able to help rangers more effectively patrol vulnerable areas like Asia and Africa. In theory, this was supposed to increase detection and deterrence of poachers, and it totally did – it just wasn’t very effective at stopping them. Essentially, the drones were great for getting pretty pictures of animals getting slaughtered and abducted, but not so great for catching the culprits.

But now Kenyan wildlife managers have figured out a new use for the technology. Rather than using the drones to scare away poachers, they’re using them to scare the bejeezus out of the elephants.

Believe it or not, this isn’t just some sort of cruel prank. This tactic has actually proven quite effective for keeping elephants out of harm’s way, reports Bloomberg. As it turns out, elephants hate the buzzing sound the drones emit, and will high-tail it in the opposite direction whenever they hear it. The jury’s still out on exactly why this happens, but the leading theory is that the elephants interpret the sound as an approaching swarm of bees. With this new knowledge, conservationists are adapting their tactics and using the drones to route elephants away from traps and other high-risk areas. Check out the video below to see it in action:

Sure, it’s probably not fun living under the constant torment of imaginary swarms of bees, but scaring the living daylights out of a herd is better than letting it get killed by poachers.

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