Application of modern tools and techniques have long been integral part of wildlife research and management, the most popular being the wireless communication used by the forest officials on regular basis and telemetry technology. Given that wildlife populations move beyond the protected boundaries especially the large animals such as tiger, elephant and rhino and that many of these animals are target of poachers, advanced sophisticated technological solutions are required. In this context, aerial vehicles (both manned and unmanned) have been used in the Western countries for surveillance, population monitoring and crisis management. In India, manned aerial vehicles have been used occasionally for animal count and forest mapping. However, these tools are yet to be fully integrated in the forest management as a part of regular strategies, although they potentially offer effective solutions. Recently, deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) was found successful and effective in monitoring rhinos in Namibia. Th is reinforced the dialogue to further explore the possibility of deploying UAS in India.
Saving tiger population in India
Subsequently, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), with the support of the World Wide Fund-International (WWF), undertook a test flight of a UAS in Kaziranga Tiger Reserve to monitor wildlife movement and prevent poaching. It was a small aircraft with 1.2m long and 1.8m wingspan with total weight of 3kg. It was powered by rechargeable battery that could support flying for one hour at a rate of 30km/hour. It carried still and video camera with autopilot and live video option. It was a basic miniature version and a fully sophisticated model would be tested later upon the approval of Ministry of Defence as there are certain regulations to be followed.
The test flight was successful and the Institute is now working towards enabling this as an important tool in the hand of forest managers and wildlife biologists in the country. The Institute is also simultaneously working with other technologists to integrate various technological options in the UAS. Use of this technology in forest and wildlife management will herald a remarkable change in the country, offering enhanced effectiveness in dealing with variety of management and conservation issues in the country.