Assessing the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for studying large animals

Customer: initiative project of the Chornobyl Center

Objective: assess capabilities of UAV’s for studying areas within ChEZ.

UAVs are becoming increasingly popular among various types of environmental research. However, their potential for new research directions or objects is not always evident. For example, ChEZ is very large in area and with the absence of trained personnel, studying the quantity and distribution of even large animals poses a very difficult task. Therefore, it was decided to assess the result, which may be obtained through using UAVs while surveying the ChEZ lands. The Chornobyl Center has ordered from Specialized Company (Kyiv, Ukraine) a one-day test survey of a selected site.

The work was carried out on the test site (626 ha) near the village of Glinkaon on 11 March, 2016. According to some other studies, the amount of large ungulates (moose, deer, horse) was reasonably large there. The site mostly included open meadow cenoses of the Uzh River flood plain with some inclusions of reed thickets along canals and lakes. Approximately one third of the territory was covered by deciduous and coniferous forests. Absence of leaves in March should have facilitated the detection of animals, if any.

UAV on aircraft type platform PD1900was used for the research; its wingspan was 1.9 m and the take-off weight was 3 kg. The flight was made at an altitude of 100 m; survey of the site took 3.5 hours and two battery replacements. Due to organizational and technical conditions, the survey was conducted from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on a slightly windy cool day.

The shooting quality was very high. It was possible to distinguish objects with the size of a roe deer, wolf or even black grouse. However, after a thorough analysis of the obtained photos no large animals were detected. The reasons may be different:

  • Animals do not stay on open pasts of a grassland in the daytime, but hide in forest areas, reeds or bush thickets;
  • Windy day was unfavorable for the site survey and animals hided in cozier places;
  • When moving, a UAV is taking photos of only a 100 m wide band. There is a certain probability that animals, while moving, left this band when UAV approached them.

Therefore, according to the results of the site test survey, the UAV’s efficiency for assessing a quantity of large animals leaves room for doubt.