Could Drones Have Saved Cecil The Lion From Being Killed?

Along with delivering packages and taking sky high pictures, some drone operators are now using their remote control helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles to rescue endangered animals like Zimbabwe's lion Cecil.

The ZSL London Zoo and Ol Pejeta, East Africa's largest black rhino sanctuary, are using drones and satellites to monitor and track endangered animals and the poachers who hunt them.

Meanwhile, PETA is using them in the U.S. to cut down on the illegal hunting of black bears and elk.

The illegal murder and sale of endangered species worldwide is estimated to generate poachers $70 to $213 billion every year, according to the United Nations, and the situation is getting worse.

Could drones save endangered animals
SKUKUZA, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 06: A rhinoceros is pictured in Kruger National Park on February 6, 2013 in Skukuza, South Africa. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Poachers have gone high tech as endangered animals become harder to find and more difficult to kill. Now they come equipped with night vision goggles and other high tech gadgets; one brazen poacher even tried to hack the GPS collar of a Bengal Tiger, according to Mashable.

That's why conservationists have gone high tech also.

The Instant Detect System uses camouflaged cameras triggered by ground sensors to track poachers and report their whereabouts to rangers, according to Sky News. The system has been used in Antarctica to monitor Adelie penguins and in Kenya to monitor rhinos and elephants.

"If a poacher walks by, covertly, we snap a photo, we send that back to London and we can tell the rangers in real-time if someone has entered their area."
At the same time, the firm Airware is working with the East African rhino sanctuary Ol Pejeta to fly drones 24 hours a day throughout the park and send thermal imaging feeds to nearby park rangers.

Drones might save endangered animals
BROOKFIELD, IL - JULY 02: A giraffe calf, born June 21, roams the enclosure at Brookfield Zoo on July 2, 2013 in Brookfield, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The group Air Sheperd is also working with Ol Pejeta to launch a fleet of drones. Their routes are being determined by scientific calculations tracking the sites of past poaching attempts. The mathematical predictions are used to calculate where poachers might strike next.

Mexican conservationists are also using drones to combat an increasing number of turtle egg poachers on Oaxaca beaches.

High-tech equipment doesn't always help though.

The Zimbabwe lion Cecil was shot and killed despite having a GPS tracker that allowed conservationists to monitor his movements.

Despite all the high-tech gadgets, experts agree the most important factor in protecting endangered animals like rhinos and elephants from poachers are boots on the ground. That includes rangers to stop poachers and education campaigns to stop demand from consumers.

[Photo by Cameron Spencer/Ian Walton/Scott Olson/Getty Images]