Drones for Good: Swooping in to Save the African Chimp

Camera-fitted drone technology can help to locate and monitor the endangered African chimpanzee.

(Photo: Liverpool John Moores University )

Jul 28, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Anna Hess is an editorial intern at TakePart. She is a reporter for the University of Pennsylvania’s daily newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and mentors students in West Philadelphia public schools.

It would take researchers on the ground hours of trudging through jungles to do the sort of research a new type of camera-fitted drone can do in 20 minutes—and the quiet, less intrusive filming could be a saving grace for the endangered African chimps.

The drone could help conservationists locate and preserve populations of African chimpanzees, according to a joint effort between researchers from Liverpool John Moores University in England and the Netherlands-based environmental advocacy group International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“So far, aerial drone surveys have successfully detected nests of orangutans, but before this study it was unknown if this technology would work for African apes,” Serge Wich, coauthor of the study, explains in the university’s press release published Monday. “This study shows that drones are also a promising tool to assist African ape conservation.”

The African chimpanzee is classified as endangered by advocates, as its population has diminished notably over the last few decades. The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are fewer than 300,000 left in the wild, and they face a high risk of extinction. Proper monitoring and effective surveying is crucial to any conservation effort—the apes’ living environments can’t be preserved if experts don’t know where they are.

This isn’t the first time drones have been used to help wildlife—drone imaging has been used in Jamaica to monitor the island for illegal fishing and in Alaska to track endangered Steller sea lions.

The chimp drone study was conducted over two months by testing how well the drone could detect known chimpanzee nests high in tree canopies in Loango National Park in Gabon, a country along the Atlantic Ocean in equatorial Africa. The researchers also used the drones to effectively identify fruit trees key to the chimp diet.

Considering that poaching is a problem and chimps are very intelligent animals, it’s probably no surprise that wild chimpanzees shy from humans—but the drones don’t seem to bother them much. The drones can help seek them out without sending the chimps into hiding.

RELATED: Can Technology Save Tanzania’s Chimpanzees?

Once the chimps are spotted, the imaging can even help identify the tree species they favor so those can be preserved, which will benefit the animals’ population growth.

(Photo: Liverpool John Moores University)