GRASP -Conservation from the Skies: Are Drones the Future for Great Apes Conservation?



It’s only my second week since joining the Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP), and I am asked to join a call with a partner working on the ground in Indonesia, rescuing orangutans from fires that whipped across the region during last year’s dry season. Teams have been working hard across Kalimantan to improve responses to the fires, bolster orangutan rescue projects and relocate them to areas away from the devastation.


On the other end of the call, a partner goes through their progress to date, orangutan numbers saved and in rehabilitation, successful releases and establishment of regular fire fighting patrols; great progress is being made and the funding is making a big difference. Fire patrol teams are mentioned in more detail, and this is where I hear they are now using drones — literally unmanned aircraft — to search the forest for fire outbreaks. Where efforts to reach a fire could originally take hours navigating harsh forest terrain,a drone can now cut this down to minutes, saving vast amounts of time in both confirming an outbreak and responding. The drones have also been used to take aerial photographs of the rainforest, identifying burned areas where displaced or injured orangutans are likely to be found.


Drones are low-cost, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have been used to improve wildlife conservation efforts in a variety of settings, from monitoring tigers in Nepal to tracking whales off the coast of Japan. Further, I find that there are teams working on the technology from Liverpool all the way to Canberra, developing drone technologies applicable to a wide range of environmental settings. Even big tech companies are involved, withGoogle launching UAVs to fight rhino poaching across Africa and Asia.


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