By Anthony Caere.
On each flight. I also count the number of elephants and monitor the various groups. Often groups will combine and it’s amazing to see how they move straight towards each other even when separated by distances up to 20 km (+12 miles). Seeing this really makes one appreciate the intelligence of elephants.
Soon we will be getting both radios that have GPS functionality and a 325 cm (128-inch) hi-definition screen for multi-layered visual monitoring. On a single screen, rangers at HQ will be able to simultaneously track collared elephants, the rangers protecting them, my flight path, and most importantly, those threatening the elephants — all precisely geo-located.
Zenith 701 Aircraft (courtesy of Zenith Aircraft Company)
Finally, Virunga is in the process of acquiring a Zenith 701 aircraft to help with elephant protection. This new aircraft is quite remarkable for several reasons. First, it can take off and land on runways as short as 150 meters (492 feet). If you look around on YouTube, you’ll find pilots taking off and landing this aircraft on as little as 31 meters (100 feet) of runway! Second, it uses only 15 liters (4 gallons) per hour, so in comparison to the park’s Cessna, it sips gas. And, because it works just fine using regular gas, it’s a full five times less expensive to run. The plane can also cruise comfortably at speeds of 65 km/hr (40 mph), which is a nice speed for tracking animals. Another benefit of being able to fly so slowly is we can fly the plane in the “doors off” configuration, which is helpful when taking photos.
By bringing all this technology together in such a way, we’re optimistic that Virunga’s elephant population can be stabilized and even grown. At the end of the day, every animal saved has to be considered a win.