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How Panama's Indigenous Use Drones To Save The Rainforest

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Panamanian holding a drone — Photo: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Members of Panama's 12 indigenous nations are embracing a cutting-edge technology — drones — in an effort to protect their ancestral lands.

Roughly 7.4 million hectares of rainforest cover more than half of Panamanian territory, but it is rapidly disappearing, some estimate by as much as 20,000 hectares per year.

To halt the destruction, the Panamanian Environment Ministry, working in collaboration with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has begun supplying indigenous groups with drones that can be flown below the canopy mist and enable closer monitoring and clearer pictures of where trees have been harmed, Bogota-based daily El Espectador reports.

Project participants are taught to assemble drone parts, plan flights, operate the contraptions by remote control, and read, download and compare the pictures with satellite versions.

Anthropologist Luz Graciela Joly, in an interview with the website Scidev.net, explains that modern technology use does not go against the ancestral teachings of the indigenous participants. "There are no static cultures here," she says. "All of them change in time and most indigenous cultures adopt and incorporate technologies, like cell phones, when it suits them."

Native community leaders reportedly welcomed the proposal. FAO official Lucio Santos says the UN now plans to extend the program to other areas, starting in October with the Peruvian Amazon.

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