The Amur Tiger Center has begun training employees of environmental organizations in managing unmanned aerial vehicles used to preserve rare species of animals and their habitats.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are becoming increasingly civilian use, although in the recent past they were associated exclusively with military tasks. The high efficiency and low cost of operating UAVs compared to traditional aviation have led to a growing interest in their use for environmental purposes.
“This year, for example, in the Amur region, for the first time, a multirotor for AmurSOES environmentalists with the support of bank HSBC, was used to monitor the Far East stork population. Using this six-screw platform with a high-resolution video camera, for the first time it was possible to fix the number of eggs in stork nests located on power transmission towers inaccessible for examination from the ground, and in the near future it will be known about the number of hatched chicks”, says Vyacheslav Odintsov, one of the UAV enthusiasts who conducted the first lessons for Amur environmentalists.
In the Khabarovsk Krai Forest Management and the Unmanned Systems group of companies from Izhevsk have recently successfully tested unmanned aerial vehicles Supercam S350 to monitor fires and forest violations. The Governor Vyacheslav Shport, who had personally been on trial, made the decision to purchase a pair of such UAVs for tracking forest fires in the Khabarovsk Krai.
In Primorye, UAVs are beginning to actively use specially protected natural territories. Thus, an employee of the Sikhote-Alin Reserve, in which a quadrocopter was acquired a few weeks ago, became the first participant in a kind of UAV operator school. The initiative of the organization of training was made by the Amur Tiger Center.
“We assume that the quadcopter will be used in all areas of the institution: protection, science, environmental education. Video and photo material of good quality will help in detecting the fires and specifying the details of its distribution, in carrying out accounting work and describing sample plots, as well as will be used in the print production of the reserve. After an intensive course of study, an employee of the reserve is already independently working with equipment. So we are waiting for useful and beautiful personnel,” says Dmitry Gorshkov, director of the Sikhote-Alinsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve named after K.G. Abramov.
In Russia, more and more environmental organizations, the public and government, can afford to buy the drones for needs of their daily work. However, these devices are difficult to manage and require special skills, because any mistake can lead to loss of expensive equipment.
“Despite the fact that the characteristics of civilian apparatuses, especially in the affordable price range, are significantly inferior to the military, they can be effectively used for certain scientific and environmental purposes. Unless, of course, competently use them. I repeatedly witnessed how the drone, having ceased to obey the owner, flew away, like they were joking, to China, to the factory home, or on the first flight fell down from a 300-meter height, or lay at all in the warehouse, because there was no specialist who would know how to use it. Therefore, we, together with our partners, decided to conduct training for employees of specially protected natural territories and hunting supervision in the tiger range on a system basis,”says the director of the Primorsky branch of the Amur Tiger Center Sergey Aramilev.
The operator’s ability to fully utilize the capabilities of UAV attachments, photo cameras and televisions of various types is also important. For the present the staff possessing such skills of work with UAVs is extremely small. Opening courses will help to solve this problem. Now the process of acquiring the necessary equipment for the school is actively underway; experienced teachers have already been selected - Vyacheslav Odintsov, who has undergone years of aircraft modeling and control of various types of UAVs, and Oleg Kabalik, one of the most famous animal operators in the Far East, who has successfully mastered the UAV.
The experience of using UAVs to protect nature has shown not only the perspectives and areas of their application, but also some restrictions on the use of amateur aircraft, especially in the tiger range. Vast areas for research, low temperatures and strong wind increase the requirements for the reliability and all-weather equipment, as well as the skills of the specialists managing them.