How drones protect animals

Animal counting UAVs

Forget about binoculars and clipboard, transposed digits and staring into space: now drones spring into action! In science, UAVs are increasingly being used as animal counters. They facilitate for researchers to determine the population of birds and other animal species worldwide. Whether big cats in Siberia, penguins in the Arctic, or ibex in the Spanish mountains: UAVs are not only used to count animals, but may also ensure the protection of endangered species by enabling the analysis of animal behavior in order to initiate protective measures.

Until now, Australian scientists at the University of Adelaide have tested the use of drones as animal counters on 12 colonies of penguins, swallows and frigate birds. The results show that the method is more accurate and cost-effective than using the human eye or even helicopters. Every time more birds were counted than by human observation. By using thermal cameras and video recordings, even hidden animals could be found. Several press articles make reference to a “new technology,” when in fact Microdrones have been counting animals for years.

For several years, Microdrones have been used to determine the population of different animal species, such as penguins in Antarctica. A team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA) used a microdrone to take aerial photographs of the animals. They were able to deliver information about the population, development and changes in the habitat of these birds. For scientists, the use of the drone was a successful experience. Not having to leave the research ship meant not having to scare the animals, while receiving unique photos of penguins that often reside in rough terrain.

These are not the only advantages of the use of drones. In tests, animals showed little fear of drones because they don’t resemble any natural enemy and are usually very quiet. Therefore, Microdrones are also qualified to examine the natural behavior of animals. This is especially true in the case of endangered species, where conventional observation is very difficult and tedious. The use of drones simplifies and even promotes the survival of the animals because, thanks to behavioral analysis, scientists can take the appropriate preventive measures. For example, in treating disease on endangered animals by selectively spreading medication without thereby stressing other animals unnecessarily. If animals are temporarily sedated and then freed back into the wild, drones can help to locate the disoriented animals after waking.

The only potential disadvantage in the use of drones so far is that the impact of drone flights on wildlife have not yet been explored. It may be that a too close overflight of quadrocopters over animals can stress them or drive herds apart. However, birds have showed no significant change in behavior in the presence of drones.

Ultimately, the previously successful use of UAVs as animal watchers can bring hope for revolutionized animal research – it could give us new insights into the animal kingdom, and perhaps even help save endangered species!