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Application of Thermal Drones for Wildlife Monitoring

The use of thermal technology to detect cryptic or nocturnal species in wildlife monitoring programs is a relatively new technique, with the ability to survey landscapes efficiently and effectively with little or no disturbance to wildlife.

Traditional wildlife monitoring techniques inherently have a degree of disturbance and require significant resourcing to implement across large areas.

The Penguin Foundation recognises the vital need for wildlife monitoring and studies and is proud to have funded a DJI M30T thermal drone for use by the Phillip Island Nature Parks Conservation team. Drones equipped with thermal cameras have the potential to dramatically improve program efficacy (detecting more individuals through thermal signatures often through vegetation which would normally obscure individuals), and efficiency, while reducing disturbance to wildlife.

Although thermal technology has been used to great effect for the monitoring in discrete applications such as koala surveys or the detection of pest animals in the landscape, this project will use thermal technology to monitor a broad suite of wildlife and pest species on Phillip Island (Millowl), comparing the effectiveness of this to traditional monitoring techniques.

Project Activities:

Over the past three months the DJI M30T thermal drone has been prepared for familiarisation and training flights with the Nature Parks accredited Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots. During approximately 5 hours of familiarisation and test flights in daylight hours, and 3.5 hours during night flights, it is evident that this drone is an invaluable and versatile asset for the Nature Parks to conduct monitoring/research operations during the day or night. Equipped with a camera that has thermal, wide angle, zoom, range finder capabilities, as well as the extra spotlight and loudspeaker, the M30T is capable of being used for mission mapping, wildlife monitoring (day or night), surveillance, relaying valuable information to instruct fire fighters on the ground and search and rescue if required. Please see the image below which shows the quality that this equipment has been able to provide, which will further help shape the way staff will deploy this to key activities.

The DJI M30T thermal drone has been approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for inclusion in the Nature Parks Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Operations Manual and Library. The M30T is an exceptional addition to the drone fleet, adding night operation capability via a thermal camera. This equipment can be deployed during rainy conditions. The M30T will be used for projects that include wildlife monitoring, pest animal surveillance, park compliance, mapping and future projects.

Recently, the drone and thermal camera was used to determine how effective it is for surveying little penguins. This was to help finalise development the upcoming Little Penguin movement study project. The drone captured detailed photo and video footage during the survey and was very successful in spotting and identifying penguins and discriminating from other wildlife, such as, wallabies, rabbits, bandicoots.

The Penguin Foundation has supported the investment in funding the (M30T) drone as part of its mission to conserve significant habitats and the diverse range of wildlife living on Phillip Island. The full benefit of this technology will continue to unfold as we start implementing it into various projects e.g. threatened/endemic/pest species monitoring/tracking. Given that remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are much less invasive than other methods of monitoring, the Penguin Foundation and the Nature Parks Conservation teams are excited to be able to conduct monitoring with little impact and disturbance to flora and fauna.

Swamp wallaby Thermal x2 zoom

Swamp wallaby Thermal x2 zoom

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