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How Drones are Used to Study Wildlife

You may already know what drones are. They have become the latest technological craze, filling the air, and making headlines with fears about their use.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, were first employed in the military, notably in World War 2.

In the 21st century, they have become increasingly affordable. They are now used for photography and exploration by everyone and anyone.

However, they also play a key role in research, particularly when it comes to moderating and monitoring wildlife.

The images and data that they collect can tell us a lot about animals and possible conservation techniques.

MDPI’s Drones has published many innovative research studies, one of which is the paper “Operational Protocols for the Use of Drones in Marine Animal Research”. It looks at the limitations of, and best practice for, the use of drones in studying marine animals.

Another Drones paper, “Fright or Flight? Behavioural Responses of Kangaroos to Drone-Based Monitoring”, considers the reactions of kangaroos to drones in their immediate area, and whether or not this has an impact on the health of the kangaroos or the quality of the research.

Other uses

Ever wanted to track penguins? A paper published in 2019 details the drone-assisted discovery of two previously unknown colonies of penguins in Antarctica.

Drones are also being used to find sharks in Australia. Aerial shark spotting is nothing new and has been enhancing beach safety for decades. The authors highlight recent advances in drone technology that could further improve the practice.

The next paper looks at shark whereabouts on a global scale, providing a review of the history of drone usage, and looking at future directions.

There are also many Special Issues related to the topic, such as “Drone Technology for Wildlife and Human Management”, which closed in December 2020. It sheds light on the ability of drones to access previously unattainable data, and how this ability can be shared to benefit society.

There is no doubt that drone advancement is something that will benefit people all over the world.

Drones was set up in 2017 and is currently the only international open access journal that covers all aspects of drones: science, policy, and technology.

The design, development and applications of drones are covered in the journal. The journal website provides further information about Drones and its scope.

The use of drones is contentious, as there are many benefits and limitations.


In wildlife, drones are used to count, study, and protect animals from harm.

They are far more accurate at counting species and can record vast amounts of data quicker than a person could.

Drones can also capture images from a bird’s-eye view, giving them the edge over traditional field research.

Drones are often considered to be superior to manned aircraft. Research in Drones indicates that an advantage is the avoidance of the frequent fatalities that have sadly occurred when manned aircrafts are used for wildlife monitoring.


There are limitations to this research.

Many countries have laws regulating drone use, recognising that they can be dangerous to the surrounding environment.

For example, in Singapore, a certificate or licence must be obtained to fly a drone. In France, drones are forbidden from flying over powerplants.

Drones can also endanger wildlife and ruin tourist experiences. There is a risk that they could also cause accidents merely by flying through highly sensitive areas.

It seems that there may always be an impact on wildlife, just as there is an impact of vehicles on the road. However, by mitigating this impact, research can be carried out more ethically.

The huge amount of data collected by sensors, and the sheer computing power required to count and survey the animals below, can sometimes be too much for the machine to handle.

The technologies involved in drone usage can often be expensive to purchase and run, giving this research a bigger price tag than some other studies in the field of wildlife conservation.

The quest for more information

Certainly, more research is required when it comes to drone usage. This will aid in the creation of a fixed ethical framework for drone-assisted research, hopefully leading to an increase in the number of studies conducted.