Drone’s Eye View – Protecting Wildlife & Their Habitats With Drone Technology
Written by Marlina Moreno
It wasn’t too long ago that drone technology was solely associated with covert military oops and government surveillance. Today, however, they seem to be popping up everywhere and are becoming more accessible than ever before to everyday consumers. Just earlier this month Amazon announced it had been approved to begin piloting it’s new Amazon Prime Air service which is slated to offer 30-minute delivery via drone airdrop.3 Despite mixed feelings towards the commercialization of drones regarding privacy and safety issues the emergence of this technology has undoubtably made the future of conservation efforts a little more promising.
Drone technology has emerged as a game-changer in environmental and wildlife conservation arenas and is proving be instrumental in combating the greatest threats facing our planet’s biodiversity.1 From protecting African elephants and rhinos by locating poachers and ivory hunters to safeguarding Southeast Asia’s orangutan populations by tracking illegal logging and deforestation activities to zoning in on unsustainable plantations in eco-sensitive areas, drones are proving to be one of the most valuable conservation tools available today.1
One of the pioneers in the field of conservation drone technology is the non-profit organization ConservationDrones.org. Started by researchers Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich initially as a way to map orangutan nesting sites in remote parts of the Indonesian rainforest this NGO’s now produces affordable drone models designed for monitoring at-risk wildlife and habitats.2 The bird’s eye view that this technology allows for has been especially useful in dense tropical regions where accessibility can often be time consuming and expensive which until now limited conservationists’ ability to combat the threats facing these regions.2
Below is a short video highlighting the organization’s efforts to protect orangutan populations in Indonesia.
VIDEO: Millsap, S. & Stone, D. (2013) Onward: Drones Overhead- Protecting Orangutans from Above. National Geographic. Retrieved from Youtube.
At present, 80 percent of orangutan habitat has been altered or lost in order to make way for palm oil production.5 The four largest producers of palm oil are Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Thailand, of which two are home to wild orangutan populations.4 The island of Borneo is home to an estimated 41,000 Bornean orangutans while the island of Sumatra a current estimated population of 7,500 Sumatran orangutuns, small numbers considering upwards of 230,000 likely roamed these jungles less than a century ago.6
It is estimated that every year upwards of 5,000 orangutans are killed due to the palm oil industry.5 During the past decade global demand for palm oil has driven down the wild orangutan population by 50 percent – and few signs indicate this rate will decrease in the decade ahead. Why? Because palm oil is everywhere. This globally traded vegetable oil is found in thousands of products including ice cream, chocolate, crackers, toothpaste, soap, detergents, and cosmetics, chances are you probably have palm oil-based products sitting on your self right now and don’t even know it.5
Such demands often end up placing a great deal of pressure on regions rich with biodiversity which are often places like the dense and hard to monitor jungles of Southeast Asia. Thanks to efforts like those from Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich of ConservationDrones.org and their application of technology innovation conservationists around the globe now have the ability to watch over our planet’s most threatened habitats from a drone’s eye view.
For more information about the palm oil crisis and how you can help save wild orangutans visit:
Orangutan Foundation International – http://orangutan.org/
Orangutan Conservancy – http://www.orangutan.com/
1. Alli, L. S. (2014). Drones for Conservation. Rainforest Partnership. Retrieved from http://www.rainforestpartnership.org/rss/251-drones-for-conservation 2. Conservations Drones. Retrieved from http://conservationdrones.org/ 3. Gross, D. (2013, 2 December ). CNN. Amazon’s drone delivery: How would it work? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/02/tech/innovation/amazon-drones-questions/ 4. Orangutan Foundation International. Retrieved from http://orangutan.org/. 5. Wilcove, D. S., & Koh, L. P. (2010). Addressing the threats to biodiversity from oil-palm agriculture. Biodiversity and Conservation, 19(4), 999-1007.