Drone op­tion to con­trol dogs

Countryman - - LIVESTOCK - Zach Relph

Au­ton­o­mous drone tech­nol­ogy could emerge as a key tool in WA’s bat­tle to end the wild dog scourge, with a Murchi­son pas­toral­ist tri­alling a heli­copter pro­gram to un­der­stand their habits.

Jinge­marra Sta­tion owner Mayne Je­nour in­tends to fly a medium-frame, ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing heli­copter, de­vel­oped by Au­ton­o­mous Tech­nol­ogy, to gain fur­ther in­sight into wild dog move­ments.

The sheep pro­ducer, who runs about 1500 Da­mara-Dor­per sheep on the 110,426ha sta­tion about 70km north of Yal­goo, said the drone would lo­cate and track the rel­a­tively elu­sive wild dogs via their ther­mal im­age.

“The sta­tion cov­ers an ex­pan­sive area, with much of it in­ac­ces­si­ble for dog con­trol,” Mr Je­nour said.

“The drone will find the dogs’ dens, wa­ter­ing points and reg­u­lar travel cor­ri­dors to help es­tab­lish a data­base on wild dog move­ments and habits.”

The heli­copter drone, which is also used at iron ore and gold op­er­a­tions, will un­der­take its maiden flight over the pas­toral lease later this month. It will be fit­ted with a ther­mal-imag­ing cam­era with high-def­i­ni­tion video ca­pa­bil­ity to map the ter­rain and pin­point wild dog lo­ca­tions.

The drone also has the ca­pac­ity to carry a “bait carousel”, hold­ing up to 60 baits, which can be dropped at ex­act GPS points as well as around lo­cated dogs, their dens and fre­quented ar­eas.

Fur­ther de­vel­op­ment in­cludes fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware to cat­a­logue in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals as well as in­ter­ven­tion soft­ware al­low­ing the drone to au­tonomously po­si­tion it­self be­tween a sheep flock and an at­tack­ing dog to pre­vent an at­tack.

Mr Je­nour said dog at­tacks were a year-round oc­cur­rence, how­ever, the re­gion was en­ter­ing the peak pe­riod for sheep be­ing sav­aged.

“From Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary, the moth­ers are out teach­ing the pups how to kill,” he said. “There is also an­other in­flux from about April to May when they are mat­ing.”

Jinge­marra Sta­tion’s south­ern bound­ary is pro­tected by the ex­ist­ing State Bar­rier Fence, while the west­ern and north­ern ar­eas are poised to be shielded by the touted Murchi­son Re­gional Ver­min Coun­cil’s cell fence.

Mr Je­nour will erect his own fence on the east­ern perime­ter to com­pletely en­com­pass the sta­tion, af­ter the MRVC clus­ter has been com­pleted.

He said the drone would prove to be in­valu­able in re­lay­ing in­for­ma­tion on the where­abouts of wild dogs to dog­gers op­er­at­ing within the cell.

Au­ton­o­mous Tech­nol­ogy di­rec­tor Nigel Brown said his com­pany was fo­cused on in­creas­ing flight times and pay­load ca­pac­ity.

He said by chang­ing the hard­ware on the heli­copter plat­form, the drone could be adapted to per­form mul­ti­tudes of tasks au­tonomously. The cur­rent flight time of 1.5 hours and pay­load ca­pac­ity of 8kg will be in­creased to up­wards of four hours and 20kg, re­spec­tively, with the new-gen­er­a­tion ma­chines un­der de­vel­op­ment.

“We’ll prob­a­bly never erad­i­cate the dogs com­pletely, but over time we hope to be able to re­duce their pop­u­la­tion to al­low the range­lands sheep in­dus­try to co-ex­ist,” Mr Je­nour said.

Pic­ture: Zach Relph

Au­ton­o­mous Tech­nol­ogy di­rec­tor Nigel Brown and Jinge­marra Sta­tion owner Mayne Je­nour.

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