JOHANNESBURG — Standing in his flatbed truck, Marc Goss touches “take off” on his iPad 3 and a $300 AR Drone whirs into the air as his latest weapon to fight elephant poachers around Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
“It’s an arms race,” said Goss, whose green khaki clothing shields him from thorny acacia branches in the 74,132 acres of savanna he protects. “We’re seeing larger numbers of poachers.”
Besides the almost 2 foot-long drone, Goss and other conservationists are using night-vision goggles and Google Earth to halt the decline of Kenya’s wildlife, which helps attract $1 billion a year in tourism. With elephant ivory sold for as much as $1,000 a kilogram in Hong Kong, Kenya is facing its most serious threat from poaching in almost a quarter-century, according to the United Nations.
At least 232 elephants have been killed in the year to Sept. 30, adding to 384 last year from a population of 40,000. Demand for illicit ivory from expanding economies such as China and Thailand has doubled since 2007, according to the UN Environment Programme.
Goss’ patch borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where semi-nomadic tribesmen, known as the Maasai, herd their cows. On a warm morning he squints through the bush at a tusk-less elephant carcass surrounded by 10 of its grieving family members in the hills above the village of Aitong.