Drones are dramatically changing how we identify and resolve conservation issues in even the most remote areas. A great example of the value of drones for assisting conservation efforts is highlighted by a study of proboscis monkeys in the forests of Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, as published by Stark and colleagues in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
The study focused on monitoring human activity in these forests and how they impacted the movements of these cryptic monkeys. Proboscis monkeys typically occupy the riparian zone, which is the land that occurs alongside rivers and streams. However, this area is becoming increasingly threatened by human settlement, deforestation and agriculture.
As a result, the researchers GPS tracked a group of proboscis monkeys for six months. They also used a drone to map changes in the habitat. The data collected showed that proboscis monkey’s lost approximately 30% of their “home range area” during that period (see figure below).
Not only did this occur, but the imagery gained from the drone uncovered a violation of water resource laws. They found that land being cleared overstepped the minimum 20 metre boundary from the river’s edge.
This discovery resulted in the Sabah State Government issuing an end to any further clearing of the riparian zone along the river. The unique application of drones to this scenario has demonstrated how drones can be used to monitor and identify issues that may have gone unnoticed.
Figure: Stark et al. 2017 examples of drone images showing the extent of clearing and removal of the riparian reserve in relation to proboscis monkey GPS fixes (white points).