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Are drones a wildlife saviour, or the latest challenge against it?

This post was written by Shea Odonnell on 15, Dec, 2016

Coming a long way since just military usage, drones are now becoming an integral part of a diverse range of industries and applications. At ConsortiQ, we have often described how these incredible tools can transform the way that construction companies, engineering firms and emergency services operate, even reaching out to the educational sector to prepare the workforce of the future with the skills needed to operate the technology that is set to become an increasingly common sight. At this early and experimental stage, many new, unexpected uses are being discovered. One of these areas that is currently adapting UAV technology to meet its needs is the wildlife and conservation sector.

One of the reasons why drones have been welcomed by companies of all kinds is due to the fact that they are fast to deploy, agile and are much quieter and smaller than traditional method of industrial aviation such as helicopters. This provides the base of the perfect tool for preventing poaching, for example.

One case of this is in Africa, where drones have already been delivering emergency medicine and transporting medical samples to the most remote areas of the country. After playing a huge role in saving the lives of humans, they are proving their use, assisting in the preservation of endangered animals.

Stopping the poaching of wildlife such as rhinos and elephants is a constant challenge for conservationists, yet recently the problem has been increasing at an exponential rate due to the rise in market value of ivory in China and Vietnam. Schemes such as the Air Shepherd Program in Southern Africa have utilised drone solutions in order to deter these poachers. With a UAV, pilots are able to silently and stealthily monitor animal parks throughout the day and night, recording activity on infrared cameras and only making themselves visible to scare off night-poachers. When spotted by the pilot, drones can be used to shine a bright light, startling the poachers and causing them to flee while cameras capture images for evidence. Elsewhere, there are many other cases of conservationists creating customised drones, using them to track animals and fly places that would usually be inaccessible by any other means and recording high definition data that can be used to form analyses.

There are concerns that have been raised over the unseen effect that operating drones in such close proximity to unaware wildlife may have. In a recent study, UAVs were flown near a group of wild bears. While they didn’t appear alarmed by the vehicles, previously installed sensors recorded a 400% increase in their heart rates. Such high levels of stress could prove detrimental to the wildlife that is meant to be protected.

While these results do raise alarm, scientists are undecided as to the nature of the research and as such, the actual negative impact of drones on wildlife, putting the raised heart rate down to a short lived surprise rather than actual stress.

Ultimately, this area is still in its early days of using this technology and the full risks are still being assessed. But from current examples, if they continue to develop to become quieter, easier to operate and affordable, these aerial tools could have enormous potential for protecting the welfare of wildlife across the world.

Do you work with wildlife? Do you think are drones good or bad for the industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts.