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Optimizing observing strategies for monitoring animals using drone-mounted thermal infrared cameras

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The proliferation of relatively affordable off-the-shelf drones offers great opportunities for wildlife monitoring and conservation. Similarly the recent reduction in the cost of thermal infrared cameras also offers new promise in this field, as they have the advantage over conventional RGB cameras of being able to distinguish animals based on their body heat and being able to detect animals at night. However, the use of drone-mounted thermal infrared cameras comes with several technical challenges. In this article, we address some of these issues, namely thermal contrast problems due to heat from the ground, absorption and emission of thermal infrared radiation by the atmosphere, obscuration by vegetation, and optimizing the flying height of drones for a best balance between covering a large area and being able to accurately image and identify animals of interest. We demonstrate the application of these methods with a case study using field data and make the first ever detection of the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) in thermal infrared data. We provide a web-tool so that the community can easily apply these techniques to other studies (http://www.astro.ljmu.ac.uk/aricburk/uav_calc/).
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moorse University, Liverpool, UK 2: School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK 3: Department of Computer Science, James Parsons Building, Liverpool, UK 4: Drylands Conservation Programme, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa

Publication date: January 17, 2019

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