How Bristol drones are helping protect endangered species in Africa

Bristol scientists are pioneering a new way to protect endangered species in Africa which could help revolutionise wildlife conservation projects.

Researchers from the University of Bristol and the Bristol Zoological Society were flown out to Cameroon in December to trial the new approach involving machine-learning and drone technology.

The technology, developed in Bristol, was used to monitor populations of the threatened Kordofan giraffe at Bénoué National Park.

Dr Caspian Johnson, conservation science lecturer, said much of the national park was inaccessible and therefore presented a "huge challenge" for keeping track of population numbers.

“Bénoué National Park is very difficult to patrol on foot and large parts are virtually inaccessible, presenting a huge challenge for wildlife monitoring," he said.

"What’s more, the giraffe are very well camouflaged and often found in small, transient groups."

Dr Gráinne McCabe, head of field conservation and science at Bristol Zoological Society, added: “There has been a significant and drastic decline recently of larger mammals in the park and it is vital that accurate measurements of populations can be established to guide our conservation actions."

Along with drones, sensor technologies and deployment techniques were used to try and establish giraffe population numbers.

Dr Matt Watson from Bristol University's School of Earth Sciences said: “On the surface this might seem relatively easy but imagine an area the size of greater London in which you are trying to find and identify an estimated population of just twenty to thirty Kordofan giraffe."

University researchers say they require more than one type of drone and several different sensors to allow them to operate 24 hours a day throughout the year.

They are now working with Bristol Zoological Society to develop a large-scale proposal to develop the necessary technologies.

“A machine learning based system that we develop for the Kordofan giraffe will be applicable to a range of large mammals," Dr Watson said.

"Combine that with low-cost aircraft systems capable of automated deployment without the need for large open spaces to launch and land, and we will be able to make a real difference to conservation projects worldwide."

The group are planning to return in early 2021 and would be keen to hear from any potential project partners, either individuals or organisations.

Source: BristolPost UK