Cheap drones, used by conservationists to survey endangered animals, risk being used by poachers to kill wildlife, according to a leading scientist.
In an address to the Ecological Society of Australia conference, Professor Lian Pin Koh from the University of Adelaide said that conservation drones could soon be used by poachers to undermine conservation efforts.
"We have developed cheap drones that conservation managers are using to survey rhinoceros and orangutans, and to discover illegal logging, but the flip side is that poachers could use this technology to locate threatened wildlife," said Professor Koh.
A drone “arms race” is inevitable, believes Professor Koh, as poachers adapt conservation drones, which were designed to survey threatened species and monitor the environment, to hunt and kill wildlife.
"I expect criminals will eventually be using drones for poaching and hunting,” said Professor Koh. “Conservation groups could work with agencies to limit the capacity of illegal drones by deploying GPS jamming or prohibiting drones in sensitive areas."
Drones are being used increasingly to monitor the environment because they can survey wildlife more effectively than traditional methods, especially in inaccessible terrain. Drones have been used to monitor orangutan nests in Borneo, providing a more thorough, faster and cheaper way of counting nests than ground-based surveys.
Professor Koh has pioneered the development of conservation drones over the past 5 years. He set up a drone research hub at the University of Adelaide in 2014 (www.uraf.org).
"The hub connects academia with industry and government agencies, so that our drones can be used to reduce the cost of conservation surveys and natural resource management. The hub also educates the public on the safe and legal use of drones in Australia,” Professor Koh said.
Professor Lian Pin Koh
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