Brazil’s environmental police are deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to monitor the country’s vast forest for illegal logging, drug trafficking and other crimes. Named Arara (Parrot) and Tiriba (Little Parrot), the home-grown planes are taking flight to watch over the world’s largest remaining rainforest, the Brazilian Amazon
The São Paulo Environmental Police will be the country’s first agency to regularly employ (unarmed) UAVs to monitor remote areas for deforestation, illegal fishing, and sand mining. The drones, built by AGX Tecnologia using technology developed at the University of São Paulo, can be deployed almost anywhere, and stay aloft longer than their human-piloted counterparts. AGX’s latest version, with a 10-foot wingspan, can be launched just by throwing it.
Drones in Latin America are not new. Brazil’s law enforcement agencies already use them to monitor drug trafficking and other crimes, and the county recently purchased 14 Israeli-made Heron drones for $350 million.
But the threats in the Brazilian Amazon, if different, are no less real. As much as 60,000 square miles of forest—an area larger than Greece, have been cleared between 2000 and 2006. Today, a combination of the economic crisis, lowering prices for deforestation-linked commodities such as cattle and soybeans, and one of the world’s best satellite forest monitoring and response systems, has dropped that figure to just 600 square miles in 2010, reports the Brazilian environment agency Ibama.
Keeping it that way will require a watchful eye in the sky when prices, and pressure to clear the forest, rebound.