Let us introduce you to the amazing world of low-cost wildlife drones!
Wildlife drones are any drones being used for the purpose of researching/monitoring/managing wildlife. They can range from being very costly, to relatively affordable (around GBP £1500). UAVWILD specialises in those drones at the lower end of the budget. Even these drones can give a valuable insight into the wildlife or habitat that you’re monitoring, and are becoming increasingly accessible and user-friendly as the technology progresses. The progression of low-cost drone technology in the recent years has meant that it’s possible for conservation projects with budgets on the lower end of the scale to incorporate these drones into their monitoring, research and management plans.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro- a popular low-cost drone. Image: www.slashgear.com
What are the pros of low-cost wildlife drones?
Affordable: this technology is now more accessible than ever, meaning you can get a very good quality drone and supporting equipment for relatively little money.
User friendly: low-cost drones are really easy to use. UAVWILD uses DJI, a brand of drone that has a great reputation for being easy to operate.
High quality: the imagery quality on these drones is exceptional. You can achieve 4K video and 12MP photos from your average low-cost drone. Allowing you to collect high-quality data- resulting in high accuracy and detailed results.
Flexible: low-cost drones are extremely flexible. They give you the option to collect imagery at whatever time you want, with various methodologies to undertake a wide variety of survey types.
Efficient: these drones are highly efficient. For example, they can complete a 50m2 habitat map survey in under 5 minutes at a 50m flight height.
Aerial perspective: the aerial perspective gives you a whole new view to your subject. You can achieve a whole new angle of data. Satellite imagery will always be an option, however, the increased level of detail and flexibility you get from drones is levelling up aerial perspective analysis.
Coral Reef Habitat Map Still Image. DJI Mavic Pro. Beth Priday
What are the cons of low-cost wildlife drones?
Training: the operator and wider team will need sufficient training on how to operate the drone safely (a commercial license will be required if the result is acquiring monetary gain).
Weather dependent: these forms of low-cost drones cannot be flown in rain, high winds or extreme conditions. In some places of the world, this may limit your survey potential by reducing the chance for dependable survey repeatability for change detection for example.
Social concern: I have witnessed this first hand. Some communities, especially in those in lowly developed countries, have concerns over drones. They may associate them with the military or government surveillance, and therefore have extreme discomforts around this technology. Although, as we have found, this is a great chance for some community education and engagement!
Condition suitability: the conditions of your field site/subject have to be suited to this technology. For example, some coral reefs may lie too deep to see clearly for mapping, or the visibility may be too poor to identify manta rays from a drone. There are lots of things to think about here, but typically speaking, low-cost drones can be incorporated as a methodology in some shape or form.
Mangrove Forest Habitat Map Still Image. DJI Mavic Pro. Beth Priday
Examples of low-cost drones being used within wildlife research/management. In future blogs, we shall go into some of these in a bit more detail
Orangutan nest identification
Whale snot collection
Protected area management
Coral reef bleaching identification
Wildlife trade surveillance
Invasive species identification