Air Shepherds are infrared-capable drones that work to catch poachers in South Africa

By Nicole Sands
Updated May 23, 2016 09:20 AM
Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Maura Tierney is all about opening herself up to explore new charitable paths.

The actress, 51, has joined forces with the Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd initiative to aim at stopping elephant and rhinoceros poaching in South Africa.

“This is a very lucky thing for me because I got to educate myself quite a bit and see some amazing things,” Tierney tells PEOPLE exclusively of her mission to South Africa sponsored by South African Airways. “They approached me and asked if I wanted to be involved in the launch of the project, and I did a lot of research and really wanted to be there.”

She adds, “I’ve done work with charities, but not wildlife, so it’s a whole new phase of my awareness.”

With the use of infrared-capable drones, rangers are able to combat poaching by detecting those committing these horrendous crimes and intercept their activity in what Tierney describes as a “trap.”

“We got to see the drone go up, but then they sit in this really advanced van reading the read-outs and radio to the rangers,” says the Affair actress. “We met some of the rangers, but we weren’t out with them because it’s dangerous.”

“It’s like a war for the rangers – they’re out there in the middle of the night in the pitch black,” Tierney continues.

Growing up in Boston and spending the entirety of her life in the city, traveling outside of her comfort zone to South Africa “was very fascinating, amazing [and eye opening]” to her.

“Killing these rhinos for their horns is basically like cutting off your finger, and the problem is, now, is that there is this huge demand for it, and what has to be addressed is the demand because it’s a major corruption,” she says.

“It’s not just about busting the one person on the ground who’s doing the dirty work and gets a small amount of the money this organized crime gets for the horns,” Tierney says about the horns that these poachers are killing innocent animals for – which have absolutely no medicinal value. “Poaching is a very complicated, multi-layered problem.”

Because of the success that these Air Shepherds have had in aiming to put an end to the problem, the foundation is actively discussing expanding into five more countries.

“I think the answer is about stopping the demand – it’s about awareness and creating awareness.”