Ajude a salvar os grandes símios e dos seus habitats


Drones Will Prove Vital To Land And Wildlife Conservation In Southeast Asia

terça, 16 agosto 2016 11:52 Science News

Drones Will Prove Vital To Land And Wildlife Conservation In Southeast Asia

Casey Hynes | Forbes | 31/07/16

The Sumatran orangutan is one of the world’s most high-profile critically endangered species. Only 6,000 are left, and the Bornean orangutan doesn’t fare much better. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that no more than 69,000 of the latter remain. Saving these animals from extinction requires innovative solutions from the conservation community. 

At least some of those answers will come from the sky. Thanks to a collaboration between ecologist Lian Pin Koh and primatologist Serge Wich, drone technology could advance the fight to save orangutans and other endangered wildlife populations in Asia.

A five-year-old wildlife orangutan under anesthetic lies down on the ground during a rescue operation in Aceh province. The orangutan is currently listed as critically Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) with only about 6,000 Sumatran orangutans remaining. CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

Koh and Wich began experimenting with the concept of conservation drones in 2012. As a remote-control airplane hobbyist, Koh posited that the technology could help Wich in his work tracking orangutans in the Sumatran rainforest.   

“Almost out of fun, I suggested to him that we could use remote-controlled airplanes to survey the canopies and count the nests,” Koh recalls. “We proceeded with experimenting with planes, cameras, and autopilot systems.” 

They began attaching cameras and sensors to the planes and eventually upgraded to drones. The aerial technology presented an alternative to helicopter and ground surveys, which are both costly, time-consuming, and not as precise as many dire conservation situations call for, according to Wich. Drones allowed them to gather images beneath the frequent cloud cover that blankets the rainforest, as well as track which areas of the forests were being logged or burned. 


Orangutans face two major threats to their survival, according to Wich: hunting and deforestation. Although orangutans are not often hunted for food or as trophies, they are at risk of being shot by farmers protecting their crops. Palm oil has become a multi-billion dollar industry and contributed to rapid deforestation in parts of Southeast Asia, including areas inhabited by orangutans. 

The situation is “totally unsustainable,” Wich said.

He and Koh realized early on that drone cameras would enable conservationists to provide proof to government agencies in charge of protecting wildlife reserves and urge them to take action against illegal activity. 

“Drones have given researchers a whole set of tools to answer a range of questions we couldn’t answer before,” Wich said.

This photo taken on April 29, 2016 shows a plantation worker harvesting fruit from oil palm trees at Suka Dame village in Deliserdang, Indonesia’s North Sumatra province. KHARISMA TARIGAN/AFP/Getty Images

But in those early days, not many people were impressed their breakthrough. 

“Nobody took us seriously then because it was not something professors should be spending their time on apparently,” Koh said.  

Things changed after Koh gave a TED talk titled “A drone’s eye view of conservation” in 2013. The concept of conservation drones became more attractive and caught the eye of other eco and drone enthusiasts. 

One of them was Keeyen Pang, who became involved with Wich’s and Koh’s website conservationdrones.org. Pang turned his passion for conservation into Hornbill Surveys, a startup he runs when he’s not working at his full-time job of selling tractor parts to farms and plantations. Hornbill Surveys offers affordable drone solutions to conservation organizations and plantation companies for use in surveying landscapes. 

“Our whole motive is to promote low-cost drones … so we can bring benefits to the users, especially conservation groups,” Pang said. The company charges $1,500-3,500 USD for its equipment. 

Agriculture companies also have an interest in conservation drones, though they’re motivated by different reasons than Koh and Wich. Palm oil plantations are virtual gold mines for agricultural corporations. The industry is worth at least $44 billion, and demand for the product is on the rise. However, rapid plantation growth could deplete the land within 10 years, so big agriculture producers are beginning to pay attention to sustainability. 

“It’s not just about CSR (corporate social responsibility) or good PR,” said Mark Yong, CEO of Garuda Robotics. “There are real monetary consequences to not being sustainable.” Garuda offers precision agriculture solutions via drones, which means that agriculture corporations can use the technology to inspect their fields and infrastructure, as well as optimize their yields through high-powered surveys. 

The drones are equipped with sensors that can count the number of trees on a plantation and determine whether areas are over- or under-planted. This will be increasingly important as companies attempt to maximize their outputs without damaging the land for the long-term. 

Decreasing costs of equipment are making drones accessible to a wider audience, but they still have their limitations. Wich and Koh noted that the regulatory framework for drone usage in places such as Indonesia is still vague. A lack of high-speed Internet will also be an issue if companies want real-time uploads. 

Drones are rapidly improving data collection. But the next phase in drone usage is steeper, and it revolves around faster, more automated analysis. 

“We’ve become pretty good at collecting data from drones in an effective way, but analyzing the data is the next big hurdle,” Wich says. 

The Dutch company Birds.ai is developing machine learning algorithms that will make it easier to search and classify images collected by drones. The goal is to train computer programs to identify photos of interest and accurately tag points such as trees or animals.

In orangutan research, the system might calculate the amount of energy in each line of the photo and zero in on the areas with the most activity, according to Camiel Verschoor, founder and CEO of Birds.ai. The high energy areas are those most likely to show orangutans, so researchers can spend less time combing through thousands of images and focus on those with the data they need. 

The system won’t be fully automated for years, and it requires human input to train the algorithms. But it has the potential to help significantly in dire conservation situations. “It will never work perfectly, but the human eye isn’t perfect either,” Verschoor said.

Wich is currently working with Birds.ai on a strategy for using the technology in his work with orangutans, and the company has used it in rhino conservation efforts in Africa. But these tactics will need to be part of a broader strategy involving on-the-ground research and law enforcement in order to be most effective. 

“Drones can contribute to the science and collection of data, but they’re not a silver bullet,” Wich said. 

Nonetheless, they have an important role to play in both conservation and development in Southeast Asia, according to Koh. “The most urgent need is to reconcile development — economic and social development — with environmental protection,” he said.  “We need to find a balance so Southeast Asia can continue to grow and prosper economically, perhaps to the standard of Western countries, while at the same time not repeating what the West did to their environment.”



We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. More info.

By using 4apes.com you agree to our use of cookies.