June 22, 2012
This week conservation activists announced the introduction of drones as a new means to help protect endangered species in Nepal, particularly rhinos. The drones will address the combined effects of poaching and habitat destruction on Nepal’s most treasured wildlife.
The pilotless aircraft were developed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and first used in Indonesia. The drones are cheap to buy and operate and they may signal a significant boost to conservationist activity throughout the developing world.
Developers say they are cheap to buy (about $2,500 per drone) and to operate and could help conservationists across the developing world.
In an interview with BBC, Dr. Serge Wich, a biologist with the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zurich and one of the innovators behind the project, addressed the poaching issue and the men who slaughter rhinos and tigers inside Nepal’s national parks.
"We hope these drones will be useful in detecting poachers as they enter the parks," Dr Serge Wich said. "If they see poachers in the area, they can send out a team to catch them."
The small-scale, remote-controlled drones are still being refined. They are light enough to be launched by hand and fly a pre-programmed route of up to 20km (12.5 miles), filming the ground below with stills or video camera.
Operational costs are minimal. Electric batteries drive the aircraft, rechargeable from the grid in about half an hour. That should make them affordable for conservationists in developing countries where budgets for wildlife protection tend to be modest.
"The whole idea," Dr Wich said, "is that people can run them for very low cost."
Test flights have just been completed in Nepal. Next comes training. Operational use should start in a few months' time.
Success in Nepal could help to kindle interest elsewhere. The drones were first used, with success, in Indonesia to track orangutans and other vulnerable species and to monitor deforestation.
Drones may also help with the broader issue of habitat destruction.
Regular flights can monitor changes to park boundaries, for example, and help in the long-term battle against encroachment.
I found two versions of a promotional video filmed from a conservation drone. One includes the buzz-saw-like audio of the aircraft’s motor, which is pretty annoying. There’s a different version with a dubbed guitar soundtrack, which you will find below:
For those of you – like me – who are drone dweebs, there's a website about conservation drones, which states:
“The mission of this website is to share our knowledge for building low-cost Conservation Drones to help conservation workers and researchers in developing countries do their jobs a lot more effectively and cost efficiently.
“Of course, we recognize that there are highly sophisticated commercial UAV systems in the market and in use by the military, agricultural industry, and even the film industry. But most of them cost tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, we choose to adapt an autopilot system developed by an online community of hobbyists and developers (diydrones.com) to build our Conservation Drones..”
Here's the link to conservation drone specs: