Review: Drones Will Soon Monitor Endangered Animals in Africa

Scientists recently completed one of the first unmanned aerial surveys of wildlife in Africa, which could one day lead to endangered animal protection and poacher prevention. Vermeulen says drone monitoring has several advantages over typical plane-based surveying: drones are cheaper and can be launched more easily than a plane.

But the model the team used, the Gatewing x100 was only able to fly for 40 minutes at a time and its camera couldn't zoom in far enough to see any animals besides elephants. Drones also offer a security and logistics advantage over plane monitoring, Vermeulen says.

In Burkina Faso, fuel used for airplanes is often siphoned out of the plane, and finding someone to fly one can be problematic. But in order for drones to be truly useful, Vermeulen says the team needs an aircraft that can cover hundreds of kilometers at a time.

Vermeulen's team isn't the only group looking into using unmanned aircraft to monitor endangered wildlife. In December, Google announced it was giving $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund for anti-poaching drones in Africa and Asia. Those drones will be able to track poachers more easily than park rangers located on the ground, according to the WWF.