From being used in military operations to being a staple equipment of hobbyists and professional photographers, drones have definitely taken the world by storm. As new innovations in drone technology continue to change the way we live, it is becoming a powerful weapon not only for warfare, but for wildlife conservation as well.
Today, new drone models are equipped with features that enable wildlife monitoring and conservation. With high-end capabilities that might eventually stop wildlife poaching and intensify habitat management, there is no need to wonder why drones are becoming an important gear for conservation.
How it All Started Out
The number of orangutans has continuously dropped from the 70’s, making them “critically endangered”. As an effort to prevent animal poaching, Serge Wich and Lian Pin Koh used remote-controlled airplanes to monitor orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra in the year 2012. They attached sensors and cameras in airplanes. However, it proved to be an expensive and inefficient method to capture real-time images and count nests.
As they continued experimenting with tools and equipment, they shifted their efforts to using drones, which are less expensive and more capable of delivering accurate results. This, along with other conservation efforts around the globe, opened doors for drone technology in the industry. Although progress moved at a snail’s pace, conservation groups soon realized the potential of drones not only in tracking habitats and counting nests, but in preventing animal poaching and assessing perimeters as well.
Drone Technology in Wildlife Conservation in a Nutshell
Aside from poaching, other factors like deforestation and rainforest destruction also greatly contribute to the continuous decline of endangered species such as the orangutan, rhinos, gorillas and elephants.
Other than anti-poaching capabilities, drones can also aid in wildlife conservation in the following areas:
- Habitat management
- Identification of species
- Nest monitoring
- Animal or flock count
- Animal monitoring
- Tracking of migration trends
- Assessment of perimeters
- Monitoring of vessels
- Image retrieval
- Identification and deterrence of wildlife poaching
How Drones Aid Wildlife Conservation
Wildlife conservation requires combined efforts from environmental groups, local people and governments. As illicit activities continue to threaten wildlife, the need for innovative solutions also becomes more apparent. The only question is, how does drone technology fit into the picture?
- Ground Force Assistance
Anti-poaching drones are equipped with infrared cameras to detect suspicious activities even during nighttime. When they are deployed in their respective vicinities, they run site surveillance and analyze data to identify existing threats.
Once a threat is present, drone operators alert nearby troops and rangers so they can catch illegal poachers. The data gathered by drones are used to analyze movement patterns used by poachers. This way, they can develop a contingency plan for future missions.
- Predictive Analysis
Using raw data for predictive analysis can strengthen environmental movements against poaching. Gaining enormous success in all tests and applications, a drone’s capability to analyze and predict movements and trends take factors like terrain information, migration trends of wildlife and movements of poachers into account. This proves to be a helpful way to deter illicit activities involving wildlife.
- Temperature Monitoring
Most drone models used in wildlife conservation are equipped with thermal cameras, which prove to be efficient in tracking and counting wildlife, along with animal nests. In the like manner, an aerial photography drone with a thermal camera helps protect natural habitats by tracking wildfire in the forests.
Air Shepherd Anti-Poaching Technology’s ZT-TIC Anti-Poaching Drone
Led by Charles Morrow and Anne Morrow to deter poaching activities in South Africa, Air Shepherd is a program that aims to protect elephants and rhinos, which are common targets of poachers in the area. Aside from a mobile command center and predictive software, the program uses drone models to monitor suspicious activities. Some of the models deployed by the group include ZT-TBV, ZT-TIC, Phantom 4 and DJI Inspire.
ZT-TIC, being the most popular drone model used by Air Shepherd, is jam-packed with innovative features. Electrically powered, it can fly at 4,000 feet for up to 5 hours. Also, it can be remotely controlled at a range reaching 50 kilometers. It is equipped with GPS, daytime video, thermal imager and flight stability systems and other features that are ideal for conservation programs.
Tanzania’s Super Bat DA-50 Anti-Poaching Drone
Studies reveal that in the past 6 years, approximately 80,000 elephants were poached in Tanzania. Because of this alarming figure, Africa launched a new drone patrol in 2016. Now, poaching activities can be easily identified by the use of Super Bat DA-50.
Super Bat DA-50 is powered by batteries while on-ground. With flight times ranging from around 8 to 10 hours, this UAV was designed with a 2-stroke gasoline engine to optimize flight efficiency and longevity. Its operational flight altitude peaks at 15,000 feet at about 45 to 80 miles an hour. Plus, its antenna is capable of sending information to the system’s ground station, along with receiving and sending telemetry.
Zeta FX-61 Phantom Anti-Poaching Drone
A mid-range drone used for a variety of applications, Zeta FX-61 is deployed for rainforest conservation in Suriname. Capable of dismantling into 3 parts, this compact drone can fly up to 60 minutes, depending on payload and application. Its flight altitude reaches 1000 feet—enough to cover 3 hectares and gather data for creating geo-reference maps. Because it weighs only 1.5 kilograms, it can easily land with ease and stability. Also, just like the two drones mentioned above, it can easily detect activities that threaten nature or wildlife.
Important Buyer Consideration
Lastly, drones vary in shape, size and capability. While factors like price and efficiency all play a crucial role in determining whether or not you should buy a specific drone model, it is important that you first assess your level of needs.
What are you going to use the drone for? By identifying your purpose, you can determine the system that can perfectly match your specific needs. Only after evaluating your purpose can you find the drone that can help you effectively conserve wildlife.