A new study has revealed that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fitted with a standard camera are able to detect the nests of endangered chimpanzees and, thus, save conservation researchers hours of time.
An abstract of the published research says, ‘In this two-month study, UAV-derived aerial imagery was used for two distinct purposes: testing the detectability of chimpanzee nests and identifying fruiting trees used by chimpanzees in Loango National Park (Gabon). Chimpanzee nest data were collected through two approaches: We located nests on the ground and then tried to detect them in UAV photos and vice versa.’
The research was conducted by Alexander van Andel from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Netherlands and Professor Serge Wich from the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) in the U.K.
The IUCN has classed chimpanzees as endangered because their population has been reduced significantly in the past 20 to 30 years. Therefore, it is essential to monitor areas where they live, explains LJMU.
Conservationists can use drones to frequently map chimpanzee distribution in remote areas and detect changes at a much faster rate than they can with traditional survey methods. The drone can obtain a large number of photos during its 20-minute flight in an area that would take researchers on the ground many hours to cover. The researchers can then detect areas where population levels of the endangered species are low.
Drones are an ideal solution because wild chimpanzees live in low densities and are very shy toward humans, says the university.
“The most commonly used method to survey great ape populations is counting nests during ground surveys as they build a new nest each night, but these ground surveys do not occur frequently enough with due time and costs involved,” says Wich. “So far, aerial drone surveys have successfully detected nests of orangutans, but before this study, it was unknown if this technology would work for African apes, which often construct their nest lower below the canopy. This study shows that drones are also a promising tool to assist African ape conservation.”
van Andel adds, “The results of this study show that drones can be a new tool to determine faster whether chimpanzees are present in a certain area. In addition, the study shows that habitat suitability can be determined by drones by identifying tree species which are important in the chimpanzee diet.”
The paper, “Locating chimpanzee nests and identifying fruiting trees with an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle,” was published in the American Journal for Primatology and is available here.
Other co-authors to the study were Professor Christophe Boesch, Dr. Martha Robbins and Dr. Hajlmar Kühl from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Primatology. Further contributions were made by Dr. Lian Pin Koh from the Environment Institute of University of Adelaide and Joseph Kelly from the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.