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Drones could become a tool for pest control in New Zealand

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What about the killing part?

New Zealand’s primary method of controlling predators is by dropping a type of poison that pests find delicious, called 1080. This is a controversial tactic in New Zealand, due to the poison sometimes killing other animals such as birds or farm animals but that’s a story for anther time.

Aeronavics have stated that New Zealand’s current method of distributing the poison is outdated. The company’s drones are currently capable of carrying payloads of up to 44 pounds (20 kg) but could potentially carry as much as 110 pounds (50 kg). Using their sensors and targeting systems, the drones could precisely deliver poison to areas where pests were concentrated and avoid the blanket cover approach currently adopted which often results in unintended non-pests being killed.

A helicopter filling up in preparation for a drop of the controversial poison used to kill pests, 1080. Credit: Fish and Game NZ

Aeronavics believes that they could have their fully automated system ready in as little as three years. The cost per drone is currently around $40,000 and Aeronavics wishes to enter into negotiations with the government for being part of the future pest control efforts in New Zealand.

A brief background of New Zealand’s predator history: 

New Zealand’s government have a long-stated goal of making the country predator free by 2050. Predators includes possums, rats, stoats, ferrets and wild cats. Prior to settlement from first Maori and then Europeans, New Zealand had no natural land-based predators. It was a haven for bird species, particularly flightless varieties, such as the Kiwi, that had no need to fear animals like dogs, bears, wolves, large cat species and the like because New Zealand didn’t have any. There were giant carnivorous eagles but human settlement drove them to extinction.

The introduction by Maori and European settlers of species like rats, stoats and so forth was devastating to New Zealand. Once they were introduced, they had no natural predator above them on the food chain and naturally, their numbers increased exponentially. The pests, in turn, had a terrible impact on native birds – eating their eggs and habitats. Despite the best efforts by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and others over past decades, the number of pests is still enormous. New solutions, like autonomous drones, might be just what’s needed.

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