A hands-on workshop, the first of its kind in the Russian Far East devoted to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), was held in the Land of the Leopard National Park last week. Over 20 specialists from various national parks and nature reserves of the southern Russian Far East gathered to participate in the training session organized by the Phoenix Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society, with funding from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The workshop let forest guardians deepen their knowledge, get familiar with new unmanned systems technologies, and improve their skills at operating UAVs.
UAVs have become an integral part of law enforcement efforts in recent years. Representatives of Russian nature conservation agencies, including protected areas (PAs) have become interested in the unique capabilities that UAVs offer.
Over a number of years the Phoenix Fund, a close WCS partner, has been assisting national parks and nature reserves in nature conservation and helping them stay abreast of new possibilities and technologies. With this initiative, a project on the use of UAVs in protected areas of the southern Russian Far East has been launched. Unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with photo and video cameras have become the right hand of forest guardians. They give a bird’s-eye view of things happening on the ground, allow detection of forest fires, locate poachers, and monitor wildlife and vegetation. Also, UAVs are used to obtain footage of stunning and beautiful landscapes.
At the workshop, true UAV experts shared their experience and discussed specific aspects and ins and outs of work with UAVs. During the training session the participants learned about Russia’s new drone laws and rules of drone registration, problems faced by UAV operators, flight safety, and various flight programs.
Organizers also devoted much attention to practical training. In Land of the Leopard National Park, there was a series of flights by various types of UAVs, culminating with a UAV competition among the participants, which was won by a specialist from Primorsky Hunting Department. Moreover, three DJI quadcopters purchased by IFAW were donated for the use in three national parks: Bikin, Annui, and Land of the Leopard.
“Progress advances at a great rate. Today, new technologies give unique opportunities,” Director of the Phoenix Fund Sergei Bereznuk emphasized. “For this reason we decided to gather representatives of PAs, help them introduce UAVs in their work in order to perform law enforcement, scientific efforts and educational and outreach activities more efficiently. Participants will be able to share knowledge obtained during the workshop with their colleagues.”
“I am impressed; we all received much-needed information that will aid our work in protected areas,” one of the participants, Nikolai Rybin, a ranger at the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve.
“Participants were able to not only hone their skills to operate UAVs, but also connect with unique nature of the Southwest Primorye and the Land of the Leopard National Park by visiting the ‘Leopard Trail’ eco-trail,” Zilya Ibatulina, Director of the park’s Environmental Education and Tourism Department said.
“I would like to note that during the workshop the participants who have some experience in use of UAVs got answers from experts to their questions. Due to how new unmanned aerial systems are, there is little useful and accessible information in open sources. Experience gained using trial and error can be rather expensive.” one of workshop instructors, specialist of the Phoenix Fund Alexander Vrisch said. “Three years ago we started teaching rangers from various protected areas the basic skills needed to operate UAVs, and thanks to regular feedback we understood that it is time to improve those skills. The Phoenix Fund would like to hold such workshop annually due to great interest from nature conservation agencies.”
We would like to thank some participants, namely Evgeny Tabalykin, Alexander Ratnikov, and Evgeny Egidaryov, for providing the photos of the event.