BBC Wildlife Magazine

The drone revolution

Conservati­onists are deploying drones for everything from wildlife surveys to planting forests, weighing whales and catching poachers.



Drones have proved ideal for monitoring inaccessib­le seabird and sealion colonies, and for locating herds of herbivores in remote wilderness areas (oryx antelopes in Namibia, for example). In a Welsh conifer plantation, thermal-imaging drones were used to detect nesting nightjars, picking out their 40°C bodies against the colder ground – these birds are nocturnal, well camouflage­d and easily disturbed, so notoriousl­y tricky to study by traditiona­l methods. In Sumatra and Borneo, thermal-equipped drones have counted orangutans and proboscis monkeys scattered through the forest canopy.


An Oxford start-up has used drones to sow grasses and trees over old Australian coal mines, and replace mangroves in Myanmar. After aerial surveys to locate suitable sites, biodegrada­ble seed bombs were fired from mid-air. Theoretica­lly, a team of two operators can carpet-bomb thousands of seedlings a day, but critics say the emotional connection involved in traditiona­l tree planting is lost.


Not only can drones map and count trees in a forest, they’re also able to estimate the height and girth of individual trees, by means of laser pulses, enabling the forest’s overall health to be assessed. Off the coast of Argentina, marine biologists have employed drones to ‘weigh’ southern right whales, by taking aerial images from which the cetaceans’ volume and mass were calculated. If the same whales are rephotogra­phed in future, it should be possible to track their growth over time, and thus their fitness and energy requiremen­ts.

 ??  ?? Ocean Alliance uses drones during conservati­on work.
Ocean Alliance uses drones during conservati­on work.

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