published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

New role for drones — wildlife, eco conservation

In this March 1, 2012 photo released by ConservationDrones.org., a drone developed by conservation drone pioneer Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and partner Serge Wich is shown in Zurich, Switzerland. This year, they have flown more than 200, mostly test runs in Asia using an improved 2.0 version 6.5 foot wing span, air time of 45 minutes and a 15.5-mile range to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.
In this March 1, 2012 photo released by ConservationDrones.org., a drone developed by conservation drone pioneer Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and partner Serge Wich is shown in Zurich, Switzerland. This year, they have flown more than 200, mostly test runs in Asia using an improved 2.0 version 6.5 foot wing span, air time of 45 minutes and a 15.5-mile range to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PRANBURI, Thailand — They’re better known as stealthy killing machines to take out suspected terrorists with pinpoint accuracy. But drones are also being put to more benign use in skies across several continents to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.

Although it’s still the “dawn of drone ecology,” as one innovator calls it, these unmanned aerial vehicles are already skimming over Indonesia’s jungle canopy to photograph orangutans, protecting rhinos in Nepal and studying invasive aquatic plants in Florida.

Relatively cheap, portable and earth-hugging, they fill a gap between satellite and manned aircraft imagery and on-the-ground observations.

Conservation is one of the latest roles for these multi-taskers, either autonomously controlled by on-board computers or under remote guidance. Drones have been used for firefighting, road patrols, hurricane tracking and other jobs.

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