Drones Overhead — Protecting Orangutans from Above

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The population of orangutans in Indonesia has plummeted. But these tree-dwelling great apes can be difficult to find and count. Enter Conservation Drones, a group that flies camera-equipped drones to gather data about orangutans’ whereabouts and numbers.

An Orangutan Conservancy effort that shows aerial surveys can identify the animals’ distribution and density in Indonesia and Malaysia, which is key because ground-based efforts are slow and costly in the thick forests that orangutans favor.

Serge Wich, a primate biologist, launched several drones in northern Sumatra last month with his nonprofit group Conservation Drones, in an attempt to map the nesting spots that orangutans make at night. The images will be used to help NGOs in the area petition the government to protect national park land from being opened to developers interested in farming palm trees to produce palm oil.

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