For hobbyists and activists, drones can be used for everything from vandalism to saving lives. For the Wapichana community living in a remote village in southern Guyana, they’re also potentially a powerful tool against the threats of mining and deforestation.
The Wapichana are an indigenous group who live in the southern Rupununi savannas of Guyana, bordering Brazil. There are an estimated 6,000 Wapichana living in an area of rainforest and savannah spanning roughly seven million acres. Facing threats such as illegal logging, mining, and cattle rustling, the Wapichana are hoping that they’ll be able to use drones to map and monitor land aerially.
“Sometimes when you walk in the gold mines it can be frightening if there are illegal miners there from Brazil,” Timothy Isaacs, a member of the Wapichana monitoring team, told me. “We can also risk our lives monitoring along the border because there are rustlers there with high-powered rifles, whereas we have no weapons to defend ourselves.”
The Wapichana claims to regain their ancestral lands have been outstanding since 1969. To date, most is still classified as government land, open to mining, logging and cattle ranching.
According to Isaacs, who spends time monitoring both the gold mines and lands bordering Brazil, deploying drones as aerial monitors can cut risks faced by those exploring the area. The drones can monitor remote areas from above, and provide images back to the monitoring team’s computer in real-time.
Collaborating with Washington-based non-profit Digital Democracy, the Wapichana monitoring team kickstarted their drone mapping and monitoring project back in October, building and flying their first UAV. Just last month, they completed the second phase of their project, which supported further flight tests. The project aims to not only bring drone tech to the Wapichana community, but also ensure that they can use and control the tech confidently themselves.
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