For millions of years now, Australian bushfires have moulded the nature of the continent, and in the east of the country where the fires have become a frequent occurrence, its eucalyptus forests have evolved to thrive upon the phenomenon. However, just because ecological systems have learned to adapt to these conditions, doesn’t mean that when the fires rage, that they don’t cause significant harm and destruction to property, humans and wildlife. In fact, recent data shows that Australian bushfires have killed upwards of 800 people since 1851, and billions of animals and birds have lost their lives, too.
With September 2019 heralding the beginning of another deadly bushfire season, the fires continue to rage to an unprecedented degree, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The continents iconic wildlife has – and continues – to bear the brunt of the casualties, with horrifying images of kangaroos and koalas lying dead after succumbing to the smoke and flames. So far, the death toll for animals is estimated to be at more than a billion, with koalas seemingly having been the hardest hit by the virtual annihilation of their habitats across Victoria. Work is now underway to rescue and rehome hundreds of the bears into nearby reserves, but the job isn’t an easy one.
Bears like to spend a lot of their time high up among the canopy, and despite many of the trees having been burned down, they are extremely difficult to spot with the naked eye. In an attempt to better detect the koalas, police and wildlife officers have been using drones, thermal cameras and infrared technology to locate the heat signatures of any remaining bears. Once they are found, those on the ground launch a drone to try and get a better look at the animal to see if they are injured, malnourished or in any acute distress. If a bear looks to be needing medical assistance, then the ground team use cherry pickers to safely and humanely bring them down
from their treetop perches.
While many remain suspicious of drones and are worried about the type of threat that they may pose to national security and our personal lives, there are occasions such as this when their ability to help when nothing else can, must be heralded. Drones are increasingly being used for good, and it’s only when we hear of them being flown too close to airports or when they are used in modern warfare, that we are reminded of their dual purposes.