How to use drones for conservation in your own research?

Studying the most cryptic and nocturnal species such as bat fauna probably can be done by launching un-manned aerial vehicles in the dark sky of the night. The technology has been known applied already in the survey project on mining and oil palm company usually provided by an expensive private company. In conservation related issue, drones have been used in monitoring orangutans and elephants in Sumatra and Nepal.

Conservation drones, as a new method to survey this nocturnal mammal and its habitat, is expected help bat scientist to do survey in the karst area that has been known as important ecosystem and habitat for many and probably unidentified bat species. Significant threats to this biodiversity-ecosystem are large scale fires, illegal logging, hunting (Kalimantan), mining activities (Peninsular Malaysia), and limestone quarrying (Vietnam) (Salas et al. 2005; Struebig et al. 2009; Furey et al. 2010). In most case, limestone quarrying is the primary threat to karst in SE Asia regions (Clements et al. 2006).

Drone aeroplanes would help bat scientist and conservationist to inexpensively collect timely and highresolution data. Conservation drones could assist us with these advantages because we can send them whenever we like. Furthermore, drones will provide us with high-quality data whenever we like. A lightweight drone system including batteries, software, cameras and flight stabilizers that costs about $2,000 (Koh and Wich 2012).

This affordable alternative tool is an excellent source of valuable information about current land use, land cover, forest cover, and forest density. As been said, areas for monitoring and management in one area are vast and challenging to monitor regularly. We can use drones to monitor habitat and help us in conserving bats and other species. Population monitoring in pristine and converted areas would give us information on how these populations fluctuate in their natural habitat in temporal and spatial perspective.

Bat habitat survey using drones would include landscape assessment around roosting trees and bat caves for example in a karst area. This would enable scientist to monitor change in bat habitats using landscape information provided by flying drones in the real-time although this feature is still developed by Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich (Scientific American, 2012). It also can be used to look for humans or traces of human activity such as land burning if we have poachers drying bushmeat, e.g. flying foxes you can send a ground team to prevent people making fires that could be possibly endangered wildlife around forest habitat.

Thermal imaging and night vision videos can be put together with drones. Later, we can fly drones at dusk and dawn because bats peak activity would range in this period. These equipment are great benefit to detect and locate flying bats in the evening. We can monitor flying fox population long-range movement patterns, habitat use, and the impact of anthropogenic pressures (e.g. hunting) throughout their home ranges. This would be good effort since the study of international migratory flying fox with satellite telemetry (Epstein et al. 2009).

It would also be possible to do bat counting inside bat cave if it is impossible to reach the bat cave with the ground team. Drones, on the other hand, could enter the cave to locate bat roost and collect any other potential data such as temperature and humidity. Another possibility is drones can fly and at the same time digitally cave mapping in three-dimension (3D) format. Forest dependent species could also be studied by putting a very sensitive bat detector on drones. These drones will collect different frequencies calls using line or grid mission in designated area. The scientist will compare it with bat calls database after drones return to the base camp.

There are several advantages using conservation drones in bat survey. It would be inexpensive and easily applied in other places than satellite tracking devices. It can be used for many times and easily repaired. Application of conservation drones on bat research would interpret data imaging on field site much convenient and cheaper because there is possibility to find area with high number of bats population using drones. Drones technology is also accessible and open source to every NGOs or conservationist with not so much money. It would enable them to make their own drone with a simple tool and fix it by themselves if necessary with a sustainable tool in their tool kit instead buy drones from an expensive company. It would be also very possible to monitor the distribution and abundance of bat populations much faster than conventional methods (mist-netting, harp trapping, and satellite tracking).

Conservation drones could help on mitigation of karst problems that involving better land-use planning to prevent karst resources from being exhausted, comprehensive assessments of a karst’s economic and biological value before and after development, improved legislation and enforcement to protect karst biodiversity, and increased research and activities to promote public awareness of the importance of karsts and the threats facing them. Research on forest bats using conservation drones also possible to collect rare species through bat calls collection. Related to flying fox migration, conservation drones probably is the most effective way to monitor this IUCN near-threatened species because of its lengthy home range and habitual roosting sites.


  1. Clements, R, N.S. Sodhi, M. Schilthuizen, and P.K.L. Ng. 2006. Limestone Karsts Of Southeast Asia: Imperiled Arks Of Biodiversity.  Bioscience 56 (9): 733 -742.
  2. Epstein, J.H., K. Olival, J.R.C. Pulliam, C. Smith, J. Westrum, T. Hughes, A.P. Dobson, A. Zubaid, S.A. Rahman, M.M. Basir, H.E. Field, and P. Daszak. 2009. Pteropus vampyrus, a hunted migratory species with a multinational home-range and a need for regional management. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 991–1002. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01699.x
  3. Furey, N.M., I.J. Mackie and P.A. Racey. 2010. Bat diversity in Vietnamese limestone karst areas and the implications of forest degradation. Biodiversity Conservation 19:1821–1838.
  4. Koh, L. P. and S.A. Wich. 2012. Dawn of drone ecology: low-cost autonomous aerial vehicles for conservation. Tropical Conservation Science 5 (2): 121-132. Available online:
  5. Salas, L. A, A. Bedos, L. Deharveng, S. Fryer, R. Hadiaty, Heryanto, Munandar, Nardiyono, M. Noerdjito, W. Noerdjito, C. Rahmadi, A. Riyanto, Rofik, A. Ruskamdi,  M.J. Struebig, Y. Suhardjono, A. Suyanto, J.J. Vermeulen, C. Walck, H. Wiriadinata, E. Meijaard, and S. Stanley. 2005. Biodiversity, endemism and the conservation of limestone Karsts in the Sangkulirang Peninsula, Borneo. Biodiversity 6 (2): 15 – 23.
  6. Scientific American. 2012. Eye in the Sky: Drones Help Conserve Sumatran Orangutans and Other Wildlife (Online: September 27, 2012).
  7. Struebig, M.J., T. Kingston, A. Zubaid, S.C. Le Comber, A. Mohd-Adnan, A. Turner,   J. Kelly, M. Bozek, S.J. Rossiter. 2009. Conservation importance of limestone karst outcrops for Palaeotropical bats in a fragmented landscape. Biological Conservation 142: 2089–2096.

Read also how IoT and AI changes the world of environmental sustainability

This post is an old assignment during my time at Topic in Tropical Asian Forest (TiTAF) Course in 2013 so might need a bit update. I keep it here so I will remember :)

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