There are more endangered species now than ever before, and scientists are working hard to prevent this number from rising. Unsurprisingly, many are turning to drone technology to monitor critical animal populations and aid in their conservation efforts. Not only is this method more accurate, but it’s also noninvasive, ensuring that researchers will get a glimpse into the animal’s natural state without disturbing it. By improving safety measures and saving money with drone technology, conservationists can put their focus on studying these animals and bringing them back from the point of extinction.
Traditional methods for surveying these populations include inaccurate aerial imaging and tedious, difficult manual counts. To calculate these numbers, workers often have to get creative - using binoculars, telescopes, or physically walking through the animal’s habitat to get an accurate measurement. These procedures are highly contingent on weather and animal behavior, making providing a quick, precise count difficult. Drone technology simplifies these processes and provides raw, accurate analysis. Tests performed by the Smithsonian found drone data was up to 96% more accurate than ground counts.
Safer, More Efficient Missions
Drone technology removes the need for helicopter imagery. As the leading cause of work-related deaths for wildlife researchers, these pictures are similar to drone imagery, though, much harder to get. Typically, helicopters fly at low altitudes, and images are taken at high-speed as biologists briefly stick their heads out the window to observe and write notes. While a single session can cost you around $3,000 - $10,000 per day, a drone and it’s accompanying software will run about $5,600 for the entire project. Plus, since users now own the drone equipment, they can easily refly missions and analyze data.
Arguably the best benefit to using drones is the preservation of the animal’s natural habitat without human physical interference. Before using drone technology, researchers in Alaska would monitor fur seal populations by shearing a patch of fur off of pups and estimating its population based on these numbers. Similar to standard methods of wildlife tracking where animals are tranquilized and given radio collars, these animals often wake up nervous or afraid, altering their usual behavior. Deploying drones to perform these tracking tasks is a noninvasive way of receiving the same result.
For observing large or aggressive animals, it’s beneficial for all parties involved to use drones. Helicopters and other large aircraft often scare animals, putting animal offspring and people on the ground at risk of a stampede. For a notoriously hostile animal like a hippopotamus, it’s much safer to count from the air. With this theory in action, the University of New South Wales discovered that drone data was at least 10% more effective than land surveys.
Thermal Imagery in Conservation
We most often see conservationists using infrared technology to spot animals in difficult-to-reach areas. Frequently used at night, this technology can identify heat signatures that make it easy to differentiate an animal from its habitat. In a study done by the Queensland University of Technology comparing koala counts, manual spotters found 70% of the koalas in a selected area, whereas drones found 86%. DroneDeploy’s Thermal Live Map assists in this process by visualizing temperature variability and providing real-time thermal data to researchers on the ground. Thermal Live Map significantly sped up operations, as biologists in Sumatra reported when months of rainforest surveying took just a few hours with drone technology.
Drones in the conservation arena are nicknamed the “animal air force” for their impact on the areas they’re tracking. Aerial imagery is renowned for its scope of work and high-quality representation, and drone technology provides a built-in analysis that further optimizes this effort. With a detailed map of an animal’s habitat, researchers can easily monitor and boost endangered species’ populations year-to-year.