The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has announced plans to deploy aerial drones to get control of the escalating illegal wildlife trade, which is quickly spinning out of control. Funded by a $5 million Google grant, the unmanned surveillance vehicles will be deployed in either Africa or Asia to track dangerous wildlife poachers from the sky. The first pair of drones will be in place by year’s end and the wildlife conservation group hopes to dispatch another three pairs by the end of 2015.

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The illegal wildlife trade has gained unprecedented traction in the last couple of years, putting elephants, orangutans, rhinos and other species at risk of extinction while also posing danger to national security in some countries. Last year former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered the US intelligence community to step up their own efforts to curtail the business, the Guardian reports. But well-equipped poachers have outpaced regulators with as many of 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone last year.

Allan Crawford, project leader for the WWF Google technology project, told the Guardian that park rangers at the Kruger National Park can’t combat armed gangs of poachers who often have night vision equipment and vicious dogs. As a result, WWF will spend tens of thousands of dollars on four pairs of drones in the next few years as a safer, more efficient mechanism to track poachers’ movements. There is a risk, however, that the poachers will confiscate the drones, says Crawford.

Via The Guardian