Use of Drone Technology as a Tool for Behavioral Research: A Case Study of Crocodilian Nesting

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Herpetological Conservation and Biology   unpublished
Detecting cryptic behaviors without influencing the animal being observed is a challenging aspect of behavioral ecology. Such behaviors, often demonstrating habitat use, can play a crucial role in understanding wildlife monitoring and conservation. Crocodilian nesting is one such activity. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are auto-piloted aircraft that can be used to map areas aerially using high resolution photography. Previously detectable through expensive helicopter surveys, this
more » ... opter surveys, this study sought to provide a new and less expensive method for the detection of estuarine crocodile nests in tropical forest ecosystems, as well as to propose additional applications of the technology based on field performance levels. The use of drones to detect crocodile nests is the first such application of the technology. We successfully identified two crocodile nests during the course of five flight hours (1550 ha; 15.5 km 2) of testing along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysian Bor-neo, confirming the feasibility of the technology. We located these nests in close proximity to oil palm plantations, suggesting that low-level disturbance does not provide an obstacle to successful nesting. The potential to identify nests within unprotected forest could lead to additional protected areas being listed, and the effective management of crocodile nesting habitat will also provide benefits for many additional species within the ecosystem. Other applications of the technology within lowland tropical forest could include detection of logging, enhancing anti-poaching patrols, and real-time landscape mapping.