Drones are now taking to the sky to help conservationists, fight poaching, and assist in a range of wildlife-related projects worldwide.
Wildlife conservationists and those who work with wild animals face the challenge of covering the huge areas of terrain occupied by the creatures they are trying to protect.
Dense jungles, for example, are also difficult to traverse. During the course of his research at Liverpool John Moores University, Serge Wich often ventures into the wild. Conservation Drones was also co-founded by him. Serge explains the origins of the organization.
“We had been doing survey work in South East Asia and figured that it would be good if there were a more efficient way of doing surveys than just going in on the ground,” he explained. “Ground data is great, but it is often very costly and very slow, so we started to look into other options, such as drones.”
Extending their mission
As a result, drones were initially out of reach for many people, particularly those working in developing countries. Conservation Drones was determined to get past this issue by starting to create a ‘do it yourself’ drone system with help from the website DIYDrones.com.
From there, others can start building things and go on their first mission. Conservation Drone began sharing this with colleagues worldwide and created a website to share their knowledge with others. Serge and his staff also render hands-on drone pilot training in various developing countries to help local conservationists and wildlife rangers.
So how exactly are drones being used to help protect wildlife around the world? Serge further explains a few of their projects. Such as several projects where they are flying in the Sumatra region to learn more about the distribution and density of orangutans.
They also monitor the forest where these magnificent creatures live to detect logging operations as soon as it occurs. These higher-resolution images provided by drones allow drone pilots to identify a single illegally logged tree and protect the habitat of the orangutans.
But other primates are benefiting as well. They also monitor the nests of chimpanzees in Tanzania from the air. In this case, they aim to monitor a savannah setting where there are very low densities of chimpanzees.
Traditionally, a scientist would have to canvas massive areas on foot to find their nests, but it is faster and more reliable using a drone system.
So what exacts are the sensors required to locate these animals?
For the time being, photographs are being used for this purpose, but other sensors are being considered. One is using a thermal-imaging drone camera to monitor chimpanzees at night. Presently, there are testing this approach using thermal-imaging cameras along with recognition software.
Another potential use for a robust thermal imaging monitoring method is to protect rhinos from poachers, as they often strike at night.
The poaching of endangered rhinos has become an enormous problem that led to the creation of the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge to promote drone-related counterpoaching methods and techniques.
Fortunately, many groups are working on solutions. One such group from the Netherlands is developing a system for park rangers to use. Their approach is to analyze video quickly so a ranger can glance at a small screen where an area of concern is displayed to take action quickly.
Because of the increasing affordability of UAVs, park rangers and conservationists can employ wildlife protection strategies and methods on a small scale. As knowledge and technology are shared with more concerned parties, significant differences will be made in protecting our wildlife.