Gallery: Droning for the Planet: How Conservationists Use Drones to Pro...

 
Sperm whale researchers in New Zealand are using drones to survey whales without bringing large research vessels in close. They can monitor pregnant females, count whales in pods, and they will attempt to zoom down and sample whale spouts for individual whale DNA. Waterproofing and catching a homebound drone by hand in big swells in a small chase boat remains a challenge. The Sea Shepard has been using drones to track the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean and they believe the technology has increased their surveillance capacity considerably.

Photo by Conservation Drones

Twenty years ago I had a tsetse fly-filled conversation with some hardened and battle-scarred rangers about how to count rhinos in the very thick Miombo woodlands of southern Tanzania. Over the droning of those persistent and painful flies, we talked of getting a hobbyists’ radio-controlled airplane and attaching an infrared video camera for night flights to pick up the heat signatures of rhinos. Only elephants would have a bigger glow, so identification would be simple. Lots of ground could be surveyed, dense, dangerous thickets could be avoided, and poachers’ fires could be easily located by the handful of rangers responsible for a vast protected area. But small, infrared video cameras were not yet readily available to non-military types – ditto satellite tracking and GPS – and the hand-held radio range of the planes of the day was rather limited, so the rangers continued to walk transects and gingerly pick their way through tangled thickets, the haunts of slumbering and cranky rhinos and well-armed poachers.

In those twenty years since talking with the rangers, rhino and elephant populations have been decimated―only a handful of northern white rhinos still live in the wild―and the demand and prices for black market rhino horn and ivory are skyrocketing. Will the recent advent of the cost-effective, versatile unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)―the drones of our dreams―turn the tide in the fight for rhinos and the planet? Just in the past two years cost-effective drones and high-quality imaging capabilities have become readily available to conservationists, activists, researchers, and park managers (the adventurous suburbanite can also pick one up at Barnes & Noble Books).

LEAVE A COMMENT

or your inhabitat account below

Let's make sure you're a real person:


get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home