About two months ago, while planning our itinerary around the world, we learned about two biologists who also liked flying model airplanes. They were trying to combine both fields of expertise with a nonprofit called Conservation Drones. Unmanned aircraft have a bad reputation, say scientists Serge Wich and Lian Pin Koh. But aside from military applications, drones could also be used in environmental conservation to help scientists survey and protect the habitat of threatened species.
It seemed like a great story, a unique mix of conservation, technology, and the promise of great aerial photography. The only question was, “Where can we meet you?”
Conservation Drones does work all over the world. Serge and Lian Pin gave us options: Panama or Nepal in October, Indonesia in November. We looked at our map. The Indonesian project seemed the most compelling. The group was using aerial mapping to count orangutans to determine which areas of Indonesian land were the most sensitive. Or in other words, where is it most crucial for the government to protect against development.
It’s incredible work, especially in a place like Sumatra. The island was most recently in the news after the debilitating earthquake and tsunami in 2004 that killed 250,000 people. A process like this showed environmental resilience and the need to renew protections in places that fade from the public eye. We’ll have our package from Indonesia later this week on the whole experience.