Episode 007: Drones, Poaching and the African Plains with Dr. Thomas Snitch

Portrait of Tom Snitch, Ph.D., researcher for University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). TERP, Fall 2013.

Dr. Thomas Snitch introduces his current work with UAVs (drones) in Africa.  He explains how by bringing appropriate technology to Africa, high resolution satellites, exquisite mathematics and UAVs, we can dramatically reduce, and in many cases stop the poaching of rhinos, elephants and other animals.  He expands on the poaching behaviors in Africa and how it ultimately creates ecological, economic and environmental implications in the region and our world as a whole.  Dr. Snitch concludes by describing how teaching younger generations math and science can lead us into the future.


 Subscribe and Listen on iTunes


Dr. Thomas Snitch is a professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and Chairman of the Board of Maryland’s College of Science.
He has spent 40 years working in Washington, DC with positions at NASA, the Department of State, and the National Academy of Science.


Albert Einstein said – “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it.”


I have every incoming class read, out loud on the first day of class, the opening page of “Winnie The Pooh”. Pooh bear is being dragged , by his foot , down the steps by Christopher Robbin. Bump, bump, bump goes his head on every step and Pooh says – there has got to be a better way to come down the steps, maybe there isn’t, but if my head didn’t hurt so much, I could think of a better way. When you head hurts from a hard problem, find a better way to come down the stairs – bump, bump, bump.

Glimpse into the interview:

ES: What are you the most excited about in your field of work?

TS: By bringing appropriate technology to Africa, high resolution satellites, exquisite mathematics and UAVs (drones), we can dramatically reduce, and, in many cases, stop the poaching of rhinos, elephants and other animals. Where we fly UAVs at night, poaching stops. 

People ask me – why are you and the University of Maryland so focused on saving animals ? My response is that in Africa, animals bring tourists and this leads to jobs for millions of young people in Africa. No animals-no tourists- and what happens to the 13 million jobs in this tourism industry ?
With Al Shabab, Boko Harem, LRA and the Jajaniweed operating on the continent, do we need to provide more unemployed people that might be drawn to these extremists organizations ? I don’t think so.


ES: What is your most recent project/research?

TS: I am leaving this Sunday for the Limpopo region of western Mozambique to begin creating analytical models of poaching behavior in that region. We are moving forward to gain permission for UAV flights in Zambia and Botswana.


ES: Tell us one fun fact about your field of work that an average listener might not know?

TS: When working in the bush at night, we have a video screen where we stream live video from the UAV. It is the only light for miles and it draws the lions to us. They are not threatening but, I think, very curious about why is this light here in the absolute darkness of the African bush. Or, perhaps, they want us to change the channel.


Stay tuned for more episodes on the Verge of Discovery and don’t forget to subscribe today!

Join the Verge of Discovery
Subscribe to Discover Nation and receive our latest articles and resources.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Leave a Reply