One of the biggest challenges environmental conservation organizations face today is monitoring large swathes of land where endangered species are at risk from a lethal combination of deforestation, poaching and illegal development. This problem is particularly acute when the protected landscape itself is largely inaccessible, with it often taking conservationists days to trek through areas to monitor a particular area or species. The rise of UAVs, however, is radically transforming the process of environmental monitoring, with small-scale, low-cost drones capable of being deployed over vast areas of rainforests and savannas and reporting back in a fraction of the time it would take a ground team to do so.
From skimming over Indonesia’s jungle canopy photographing orangutans, through to deterring rhino poachers in Nepal and on to studying elephants in Malaysia, UAVs are ushering in a new era of drone ecology, where even cash-strapped charities and environmental organizations can beneﬁt. Indeed, the current rise of UAV technology means that small operational drones can be bought and assembled for a couple of thousand of dollars, rather than the hundreds of thousands it would take to pilot, fuel and operate a manned aircraft. As a quick case study, the use of drones in South Africa, where rhino poaching has been a serious issue for decades, has seen a marked decline in the illegal activity since they were deployed.