Can Robotic Deer Used To Catch Poachers Be Scaled Up for Endangered Species?


Real, or not? Makes you think twice before you shoot! Photo by jonnnnnn via Flickr CC

Wildlife officials use robotic deer as decoys to catch poachers. It's a strategy used for years, and it's effective. So, could it be used to catch poachers killing endangered species?Robo-deer have been a strategy for catching hunters who shoot at animals after the season has ended. Deer are set up along roadsides just waiting for the tempted hunter to take a shot. They're robotic so that nearby wildlife officials can move the head or tail remotely to make it look more lifelike. And they work.

This line from an article on Chron.com cracked me up: "A robotic deer decoy used in Georgia had to be replaced in 2006 after being shot more than 1,000 times."

Poor robo-deer. Indeed, wildlife officials note that poachers are becoming more wary not only because they might get arrested, but because if they're caught they'll be humiliated for being so lame as to shoot at a deer from the road.

But if it's that effective at catching poachers in the act, I'm curious about how effective robotic decoys can be for other species that are impacted by poaching.

With robotic deer, wildlife officers hide nearby to wait for poachers and catch them in the act. It could potentially work with all sorts of animals being poached as game or for parts to sell on the black market, such as tigers or elephants. If an elephant decoy were set up, it'd be big enough to have a few wildlife officers camp out inside!

It's obviously a dangerous job since you're dealing with stray bullets and people with guns who might not take too kindly to being caught. But it's an effective strategy. And why not with other species that are facing far more serious threats from poaching? There could even be a camera in the decoy so that the faces or other identifying information about the poachers is transmitted to nearby wildlife officers staked out at a safer distance.

There are of course issues such as cost of the decoys themselves, finding the staff to stake out with the decoys, maintenance of decoys that are shot 1000+ times, and so on. There's also the problem of highly funded poachers having the latest technology, from nigh-vision cameras to helicopters for searching out game. But these issues are not necessarily insurmountable. I'm curious of why we don't really hear of this strategy tested out on poachers taking aim at endangered species, and mainly only used for deer or elk. If you know of any wildlife parks or conservation groups using this strategy to protect endangered species, let us know in the comments!

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