(NBC News) -- African elephants are in trouble. Each year, tens of thousands of the enormous beasts are killed for their tusks, and conservationists fear they are on the road to extinction. But now, aerial drones, which first proved their value decades ago on military battlefields, are proving to be a key player in the ongoing battle against poachers.
For the past four years, anti-poaching "Bathawk" drones have been flying over national parks and game reserves in South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Next month, they'll begin flying in Botswana as part of an anti-poaching campaign there.
The drones, made by the South African company UAV Drone Solutions (UDS), can stay aloft for two-and-a-half hours while relaying live video from their onboard cameras to ground-based crews up to 15 miles away. The crews then share surveillance information and videos with park rangers and local police.
Advertisement - story continues below