2015 will go down as a breakout year for drone use in the conservation of wildlife. The Lindbergh foundation started its AirShpherd initiative in March earlier this year to stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa, UAVs have been used by research teams to collect whale snot and track sea turtles, and now the Australian National University and University of Sydney developed a way to use drones to track radio-tagged wildlife.
The system took over two years to develop, but uses an off-the-shelf Falcon 8 UAV as its base. The real engineering comes into play when the drones are fitted with a custom receiver and antenna. The setup relays information on the critters in question and maps them in real-time on a laptop.
Radio tagging has existed for decades, but adding the specially outfitted UAV to the equation improves that accuracy of the data collected and allows them to track areas that go off the grid that are entirely inaccessible to ground relays. Researchers have already reported that they can accomplish in 40 minutes what used to take half a day or more.
Initial tests were conducted on small kangaroos, but the ultimate goal would be to track small migratory birds. The team tested the theory in over 150 flights so far, and by all indication, the methodology is sound and can be utilized in other wildlife conservation efforts.