TrackerBots: VHF telemetry based tracking drones for conservation

Australia suffers one of the worst mammal extinction rates in the world. Since European settlement, the continent has lost more than 10% of its vertebrate fauna with another 40% listed as endangered or vulnerable. In fact, as much as 50% of global mammal extinctions in the last 200 years have occurred in Australia. Worryingly, our ability to prevent further species loss is compromised by our lack of understanding of many aspects of the basic ecology of our native wildlife: For instance ‘How do animals use their habitat?’, Where do they go?’, and ‘What do they do?‘ We also know very little about how introduced species, including feral foxes, goats and cats, are using the landscape and threatening the long term persistence of our native fauna.

Today, radio telemetry or radio tracking is the most important tool employed to study the movement of animals in their natural environments. However, the traditional method of radio tracking typically requires researchers to walk long distances in the field, armed with cumbersome radio receivers with hand-held antennas and battery packs to manually home in on radio signals emitted from radio tagged or collared animals. Consequently, the precious telemetry data acquired through radio tracking comes at a significant cost to researchers in terms of manpower, time and funding.

The problem is often compounded by other challenges, such as low animal recapture rates, equipment failures, and the inability to track animals that move into inaccessible terrain. Furthermore, many of our most endangered species also happen to be the most difficult to track due to their small size, inconspicuousness, and location in remote habitats.

Therefore a fundamental problem facing conservation practitioners is the notoriously difficult task of collecting precise animal movements, ieasy and early dentification mortality and activity data necessary to inform natural resource management.


In this project, we seek to combine VHF telemetry and tracking technologies to develop an integrated, low-cost and easily deployable wildlife tracking solution for not only locating radio collared animals but also for automatically detecting, identifying and locating mortality signals. 

This research is supported by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and a collaboration between the Auto-ID Lab and URAF (Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility) at the University of Adelaide. 


Damith Ranasinghe