Google To Fund Unmanned Drones To Hunt Poachers In Africa

Google funded drones will soon patrol the skies over AfricaAs part of their new Global Impact Awards, Internet search giant Google has pledged $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund in an effort to help fight illegal poaching in Africa and Asia. The funds will be used to create a sophisticated data network for tracking the movement of animals and will employ unmanned surveillance drones to hunt poachers in the field.

In their announcement of the grant, Google estimated that the global illegal wildlife trade is worth $7-$10 billion annually. Much of that value is comprised of the sale of ivory tusks harvested from elephants and the horns of rhinos, two animals that could face extinction if poaching is allowed to continue unabated.

Being a technology company, Google of course hopes to use sophisticated equipment to help combat the poachers. In addition to using drones to survey the landscape, the company is helping the WWF to develop new animal tags that are both cheaper and more advanced than what they’ve used in the past. The new tags would not only be able to track the movement of the creatures but also collect more information on their behavior. They’ll even be able to text updates and alerts on the location of the animals directly to the mobile phones of park rangers.

But it is the drones that hold the greatest potential for helping to fight the war against poachers. These tiny aircraft will be remotely piloted and feature a host of onboard technology that could prove useful in stopping the illegal harvesting of animals. With high-definition cameras, infrared sensors and built-in microphones, the aircraft will provide opportunities to observe and react to events taking place on the ground much more quickly than in the past.

Exactly which kind of drone system the WWF will use hasn’t been announced and it is likely that they’ll go through an evaluation and testing process before they purchase the aircraft. These will be unarmed UAV’s, however, so don’t look for any missile strikes to take place against the poachers. But then again, considering the Obama administration recently announced that poaching is a threat to U.S. national security interests, who knows exactly who will be in control of the drones over Africa and Asia.

[Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force]

A&K and Fairmont Earth Hour ideas will have tangible results

Earth Hour is on Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 PM. The hospitality and travel industry seems to have embraced this commitment to environmentalism. There are plenty of noteworthy initiatives out there intended to show support for a planet that could probably use our help. Of course, some are more interesting than others. I’m pretty interested in what’s going on at Abercrombie & Kent and Fairmont.

Upscale travel firm A&K is taking action at each of its 62 offices around the world. Outdoor signs will be turned off, and only emergency lighting will be used indoors. This will save 620 light-hours of electricity. And, they’re going to shut off the air conditioning for 90 minutes before the end of the work day, lowering power consumption for this period by 18 percent.

The company is also turning its corporate social responsibility gaze outward. Sanctuary Camps & Lodges are going to host stargazing parties, thanks to the dark skies. They are also planning to turn off generators and cut power consumption by 50 percent for Earth Hour (at 13 properties in Africa).

A&K’s Sun Boat III and Sun Boat IV will turn off their generators, as well, operating only with emergency lighting. Guests will be able to enjoy the bright stars – because of the desert air – in Upper Egypt. Eclipse in the Galapagos will host a presentation on the Sun Deck and reduce the use of power by 30 percent.And, the company hopes that Earth Hour goodwill is contagious. Employees have pledged to save 2,960 light-hours, and A&K’s suppliers, including restaurants and hotels, have been encouraged to support Earth Hour, with hundreds agreeing to do so.

I’m also pretty impressed with what Fairmont is doing for Earth Hour (which you can track via Twitter). This company’s made it a habit to stay out in front of the market when it comes to corporate social responsibility, and it’s ready to play from Dallas to Dubai – at all 56 properties. In addition to its usual environmentally sound initiatives, some Fairmont properties are taking specific, unique action.

At the Fairmont St. Andrews, guests can choose at check-in the power they want to use: nuclear, solar or wind. They’ll also receive compact fluorescent light bulbs. But, this is just the beginning. If you decide to sweat it out in the gym’s spin class, the energy you create will be converted to kilowatt hours to show just how much power you produce. The class is sponsored to provide a cash donation to the World Wildlife Fund. Kids will be able to plant their own saplings. The initiatives at the St. Andrews property are designed to have lasting results.

In Alberta, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will light up its side of the lake with ice luminaries. Guests will be invited to gather around a fire and enjoy some old-fashioned storytelling under the stars. This hotel is committed to Earth Hour year-round, with 50 percent of its power coming from a mix of wind and run-of-river electricity generation.

Over in Kenya, at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the lantern-lit Boma will be a place for guests to gather and listen to a local naturalist discuss conservation and the environment – the “Maasai” way. It won’t be just lectures, though, as Maasai dancers will provide entertainment.

The Fairmont Zanzibar, Tanzania will celebrate Earth Hour for the entire day. Guests will be invited to sail on historical dhows on clear Indian Ocean waters. Chef Ric and his team will use charcoal grills to prepare seafood on the beach, delighting palates without disrupting the environment.

Are you doing anything for Earth Hour? Let me know at tom.johansmeyer [at] weblogsinc.com or http://twitter.com/tjohansmeyer.

A behind-the-scenes tour of Wolong Panda Reserve

Awwww. Who doesn’t love pandas? Especially 20 adorable baby pandas playing in a “panda kindergarten.” Below is a gallery of exclusive photos from my reporting trip to Wolong Panda Reserve, the world’s most famous captive breeding center for these highly endangered animals.

Unfortunately, my big story for Science Magazine is behind a subscription wall, but you can check out a short story about my visit to Wolong here, for another magazine, The Scientist. There’s a fun little slide-show with even more pictures from that trip here.

I highly recommend visiting Wolong, particularly because they have a couple hundred pandas at the breeding center. It’s also set against an absolutely gorgeous backdrop. Oh, and if you have $100 to drop, you’ll even be able to hold your very own panda!

If you want to donate to help save these amazing animals, the two organizations that are doing incredible work (trust me, I interviewed them extensively) are WWF and Conservation International.

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