by Michael Casey for Scientific American
Tracking endangered orangutans was no easy feat a scant three years ago. It required counting treetop nests in places like the Leuser Ecosystem on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island to gauge the health of a population that was under fire from poachers and palm oil barrens. Aerial surveillance using remote sensing satellites was often too expensive for local conservation groups and, even when affordable, the views were routinely obscured by cloud cover.
“I was thinking it would be a lot easier if we had a camera somewhere up in the sky that would take pictures of the canopy of the forest and allow us to determine where orangutans are and how many there are,” says Serge Wich, a primate biologist at Liverpool John Moores University and an expert on orangutans.
A year later he and his colleague, Lian Pin Koh, chair of the Applied Ecology and Conservation Group at the University of Adelaide in Australia, launched their first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—aka drone. Weighing a few kilograms with a wingspan of about two meters, the battery-powered and remote-controlled drones look more like model airplanes as they fly above treetops snapping geotagged photos or video during preprogrammed flights that last about an hour and a half. The project drew so much interest—8,000 views on their first YouTube video—that they set up an organization, ConservationDrones.org, that promotes scientific use for UAVs worldwide. “I think it will revolutionize part of how we do conservation and rainforest ecology work,” Wich says. The group has provided upward of 40 drones globally to conservation groups studying everything from illegal fishing in Belize to destruction of elephant habitat in Indonesia to fires from bush meat hunters in the Congo.
This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of Scientific American and can be read in its entirety here.
The Conservation Drone Project is one of the efforts that the Orangutan Conservancy helps to support. Read more about them here.