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Thermal imaging drones help wildlife survey and conservation

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Wildlife is an important part of natural ecosystems, protecting them from global ecological health and safety. Wildlife conservation work should first investigate the population resources, understand the exact distribution of species, population size, habitat changes, etc., and provide a scientific basis for further assessment of species quality of life, determination of protection levels and development of appropriate protection strategies. However, this important basic work is extremely difficult to implement under the conditions of mountain forests.

Recently, the Qinling Golden Monkey Research Team of the College of Life Sciences of Northwest University applied the thermal imaging camera drone to the wild Sichuan golden monkey distribution and population size survey in the Qinling area. In the survey area, the research team collected thermal imaging videos of the wild populations of the three groups of Rhinopithecus roxellana, and obtained accurate distribution locations and population sizes of these populations.

What is the traditional wildlife survey method?

He Gang, an animal protection expert from the Qinling Rare and Endangered Animal Conservation Key Laboratory of Shaanxi Province, said that traditional wildlife surveys are usually conducted by experienced investigators entering the survey area, conducting field surveys along the design line, and passing through manual observation records. The animal entities and traces found to determine the species distribution and scale. However, under the conditions of mountain forests, the investigators must first face the long and rugged roads. Secondly, the investigators move slowly, it is difficult to find and locate the animals; in addition, it is difficult to strip the animals and only through visible light. It is difficult to observe every individual in its hidden environment. This has greatly affected the accuracy and efficiency of wildlife surveys. He Gang said that drones and thermal imaging technology have brought new opportunities to change this situation. The combination of the two technologies can effectively solve the difficulties that are difficult to overcome in traditional survey methods.

Drone and thermal imaging

He Gang introduced that drone technology can overcome the limitations of terrain and field of view, and thermal imaging technology discovers individual animals through temperature differences between animals and the environment.

1. The drone can fly fast on the canopy, can eliminate the terrain and vegetation blocking when the ground moves, and realize the free movement. At the same time, the actual work of the drone can be 15-20 km/h. The speed scans the survey area to greatly improve the speed of investigation.

2. The way the drone is viewed from the air has the characteristics of large depth and wide viewing angle, which eliminates the visual blocking problem of low viewing angle; on the other hand, using thermal imaging technology to detect infrared thermal radiation instead of visible light, Animals that were originally hidden under the forest can be visualized, as long as the animal's body temperature and the ambient temperature have a significant temperature difference. After the animals are discovered, the researchers can manually observe and observe the animal population for a long time, which can effectively improve the timeliness and accuracy of the population statistics. In addition, the track information recorded by the UAV can confirm the coordinates of the population in time and provide objective evidence.

3. The drone's replacement of manpower for investigation can reduce the safety risk of investigators going deep into the mountain forest area for on-the-spot investigation; the non-contact characteristics of the thermal imager will also reduce the interference of the survey work itself on wild animals.

Looking back at the road of exploration that combines the two technologies, He Gang said that it is not all the way. He recalled that at the beginning, the research team only thought of applying drone technology, but the test results were not ideal. Although the drone can be seen in the air, ordinary visible light lenses still cannot pass through the dense canopy and find the animals hidden. However, the mobility of the drone and its ability to overcome ground obstacles have allowed the research team to see the potential of its application. Later, when we were involved in the measurement of wild animal body temperature in the Qinling Rare and Endangered Animal Conservation Key Laboratory in Shaanxi Province, we noticed the thermal imaging technology, which instantly opened up new ideas for our research.He Gang said.

He Gang shared, through a series of experimental tests, the research team gradually completed the applicability test of UAV and thermal imaging technology under various terrain, habitat and altitude conditions. By continuously summarizing the test results and optimizing the flight plan of the drone and the shooting plan of the thermal imager, the research team basically solved the parameter adaptation of the thermal imager resolution, flight height, etc., the flight altitude and the speed and the area calculation of the survey area. The interference of other heat sources on animal surveys, the safe take-off and landing of mountain forest areas, the recovery of drones, the remote control transmission of drones, the attenuation of communication signals, and the cross-wind of valleys seriously threaten the safe flight of drones.

"The combination of drone and thermal imaging technology may be one of the best technical options for conducting wild animal surveys in mountainous forest areas. The technology will be very good in other grasslands, deserts, waters and other environments. Applicability.He Gang said that due to technical factors such as thermal imaging resolution and UAV observation distance, it is better to apply this technology in the investigation of large mammals (such as golden monkeys, giant pandas, takins, etc.).

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