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Drones transport endangered bird semen in New Zealand

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Drones are playing a vital role in preserving a critically endangered flightless parrot in New Zealand.

The kākāpō is a highly charming nocturnal bird and the world’s only flightless parrot. They typically live to be about 90, making them one of the longest living birds in the world. They are known to be very friendly, sometimes climbing onto and preening humans they encounter. Adult male kākāpō weigh between 4.4-8.8 lbs (2-4kgs).

Unfortunately for this lovely bird, there are only 147 of them left on Earth, making them highly susceptible to extinction. 60 million years of geographic isolation helped New Zealand become home to 16 species of indigenous flightless birds, the most famous of which is the Kiwi. These birds evolved in an environment with no land-based predators. The introduction of rats, cats, ferrets and so forth was devastating for New Zealand’s native bird species who had no defence against the introduced pests.

Fortunately, a concerted effort over the past several decades by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), has seen the kākāpō avoid extinction and ever so slowly, rebuild its population.

The kakapo is critically endangered with less than 150 left alive in the world.

How are drones helping to preserve the kākāpō?

For the past decade, DOC has been using artificial insemination to increase the chances that kākāpō lay fertile eggs.

The DOC rangers use drones to transport semen from the male birds between different islands. In the past, it used to take several hours for rangers to trek from areas where they extracted ‘the goods’ to the female birds. With a Mavic Air, however, it takes just 10 minutes to transport the sample, making the chances of successful fertilisation much higher. Test flights showed that the semen was not affected during short-term flights and hopefully breeding efforts will continue to help this bird population recover.

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