Australian-made wildlife tracking drone allows researchers to track endangered animals
During her 20 year career focusing on endangered animals, Dr. Saunders, who works at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, says she realized very little was known about the animals’ movements and how they travel.
With a team of researchers, Dr. Saunders developed the first drone-mounted radio tracker, a project that took three years to complete. Normally, the animals are tracked with handheld trackers and radio tags. However, in the dense vegetation, it can be difficult to track rapidly moving animals over large distances.
The best way to find a signal is to position yourself up high, but in certain environments, that is simply not always possible, and a handheld device can only track one animal at a time.
“Massive amounts of time and effort go into finding animals that go missing, and keeping up with them is tricky,” says Dr. Saunders to the Sydney Morning Herald.
With an off-the-shelf drone and a radio tracking system, researchers can search hundreds of acres in a couple of days for tagged animals and follow up to 40 creatures at once. As to not harass the wildlife, the drone doesn’t track the animals once they are found, it logs their locations.
The wildlife-tracking drone garnered so much local and international interest that Dr. Saunders moved out of academia and started Wildlife Drones. She is the chief executive and chief pilot. The drones are rented out to government agencies such as Zoos Victoria and the land management organizations in Australia and overseas.
One of the projects in New South Wales is tracking koalas in both burnt and unburnt forest areas to understand the animals’ movements after they have been released and to see if they survive.
“Generally, there is appalling survival rate after release, but no one is accountable for that, so this project will mean we can learn a lot about how to improve captive management,” says Dr Saunders.
The tech start-up Wildlife Drones now employees 10 people. However, Dr. Sander says that her focus remains on wildlife.
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Photo credit: The Sydney Morning Herald, Wildlife Drones, Ian Warden