Drones for the Environment!

You’ve heard of drones as the amazing new technology that could allow for faster shipments and deliveries and incredible 360 degree aerial photography, but did you know the fancy gadget is now playing an integral role in land and wildlife conservation in Southeast Asia? Yes, you heard that right. Drones are now being used to advance the fight to save orangutans and other endangered wildlife population in Asia.

The Sumatran Orangutan

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The Sumatran orangutan is one of the world’s most high-profile critically endangered species. Only 6,000 of them are left, and the Bornean orangutan isn’t doing much better either. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that no more than approximately 69,000 of them remain. It is clear that saving these animals from extinction will require innovative solutions from the conservation community. Luckily those solutions are closer than we think. Thanks to a collaboration between ecologist Lian Pin Koh and primatologist Serge Wich, drone technology may be used to give us a fighting chance to save orangutans and other endangered wildlife populations in Asia.

Conservation Drones in Action

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The idea for using aerial technology came up between the two conservationist almost as a joke at first. But when they realized it could actually be a great tool to track orangutans in the Sumatran forest they began experimenting with it. Drones allow 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. This is a highly accurate way to count survey the canopies and count the nests.

The Threats to Existence

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The two major threats orangutans face are hunting and deforestation. Orangutans are not frequently hunted for food or as trophies, however they are at risk of being shot by farmers protecting their crops. In addition, 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 as it stands is totally unsustainable. Luckily, drone cameras enable conservationists to provide proof to government agencies in charge of protecting wildlife reserves and urge them to take action against illegal activity.

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