Share | 09/19/2019
Tracking and monitoring are vital components of the protection and conservation of endangered species. But are traditional methods of tracking and monitoring too invasive and harmful? And what role can professional mapping drones play to help mitigate these concerns?
WildTrack, a non-profit organization dedicated to non-invasive wildlife monitoring, has a unique solution for wildlife monitoring that combines its sophisticated Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) with eBee fixed-wing drones.
Co-founded and run by Dr. Sky Alibhai and Dr. Zoe Jewell, principal research associates in the JMP Division of SAS software and adjunct faculty at Duke University, WildTrack’s software helps monitor and protect endangered species using non-invasive methods.
The Beaufort field team consisted of members from senseFly (now AgEagle), WildTrack and the Duke University Marine Lab. From left to right: Adam Zylka, Zoe Jewell, Tiger Jewell-Alibhai, Fleming Talton, Sky Alibhai and Julian Dale.
“Our research found that invasive monitoring can harm endangered species,” said Dr. Jewell. “We decided to explore the use of non-invasive (hands-off) approaches that don’t disturb, harm or change the natural behavior of the animals we monitor.”
How it works:
“Knowing where species are, and how many there are, is fundamental to all wildlife conservation initiatives,” said Dr. Jewell. “However, we often have little idea where many species live, or how many remain, making it hard to protect them.”
While the need to develop software capable of accurately analyzing footprints has been WildTrack’s focus, there has been a growing need for speedier data collection, which until now has relied on long hours of fieldwork.
This prompted WildTrack to see if using mapping drones, such as the eBee X, could provide a faster, more efficient method of UAV-assisted data collection.
The eBee X was used to map an area off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, home to the Duke University Marine Lab.
“Until now, we’ve had to trek miles in the harshest conditions— from the searing desert in Namibia to the deepest snow in northeast China— to locate cheetah or Amur tiger prints,” said Dr. Alibhai. “We’re now working with the company to explore how we can expedite this process using its eBee X fixed-wing drone.”
A ground station (laptop) is used for mission planning using eMotion flight planning software.
Working with the company and its partners at the Duke Marine Laboratory, WildTrack conducted tests of the drones and drone cameras along the North Carolina coast.
A successful eBee X fixed-wing drone launch in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Preliminary tests proved successful, and the images captured with the Aeria X photogrammetry camera successfully identified human footprint trails in the sand.
A nadir image of a shoal along the North Carolina coast, captured using the Aeria X photogrammetry camera.
In terms of resolution, the drone achieved ground sample distances (GSDs) of one and two centimeters.
3D point cloud of the mission area along the North Carolina coast.
With the two-centimeter dataset, an orthomosaic of the entire set of imagery captured by the drone was created in Pix4D, which was then used to seamlessly scroll through a single image of the mission area.
A Pix4D orthomosaic of the area mapped using an eBee X.
This allowed for easy identification of areas of interest — areas where human, dog and even horse tracks were found.
High-resolution nadir image of footprints in the sand, captured using an eBee X mapping drone and Aeria X photogrammetry camera.
From there, the team used the reference points identified in the two-centimeter dataset and viewed them in the higher resolution one-centimeter dataset to get a clearer look at the tracks.
Using drones and advanced drone cameras, researchers can capture high-resolution images of footprints in the sand.
These results were then used to establish the viability of the company’s drones and cameras for an upcoming black rhino monitoring project in Namibia. The images captured by the drone would be used for the following:
Namibia is one of the last three black rhino strongholds in the world, holding around 30% of the global population. Because the species has been mercilessly killed for its horn, used in traditional medicine in the far east, the total worldwide population is thought to be only 5,000.
“Biodiversity is disappearing at 1000 times background rates, yet we totally depend on biodiversity for our own survival,” said Dr. Jewell. “We threaten our own existence when we fail to protect the other species that inhabit this planet.”
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