‘Mama’ drone used to deliver food to rare vulture

Griffon vulture

You’ve probably heard about cases where certain bird species will perceive a drone as a threat and attack it, right? Well in this case, a drone has been put to use to deliver food to a rare vulture chick in Israel. In fact, this drone has to replace one of the vulture’s parents – earning it the nickname of “Mama” drone.

Conservationists in Israel have long been keeping a protective eye out for the Griffon vulture. The species is endangered, and efforts are made to tag and monitor birds in the wild. Cameras are also set up to monitor nesting sites. That’s how this story begins, with conservationists monitoring one such site where two mature Griffons were raising a chick. The female parent, of course, was doing a fare share of the hunting, bringing back carrion for the young one. All seemed to be well, and the conservationists were assured the young one would be okay.

But then disaster struck. Or, more accurately, the mother Griffon struck disaster. It flew into power lines and was electrocuted. (In fact, power lines and poison are the top two killers of these birds.) The conservationists quickly realized they had a problem. The father Griffon would not be able to feed and protect this chick on its own. When you’re a vulture, being a single parent is really rough.

That’s Dad, we think

Options, options…

At first, conservationists thought the only solution might be to send a climber up to the nest area. Once there, they would take the chick into captivity to ensure it could be regularly fed.

This chick needed help after its mother died

It was not an option that appealed, but it was better than the chick potentially failing to thrive. But then someone tossed out another option. It was a bit far-fetched but worth a try.

Drone delivery

What if they could get food up to the nesting site? Then the chick could continue to be raised in the wild. It was the optimal solution — except for the delivery mechanism. How would they get food up to the chick? Someone suggested using a drone.

See that fuzzy blur in the centre? That’s a drone, deliberately fuzzed out

The Israeli army was contacted, and soon, it was training for the delicate task of delivering and dropping its payload in a very precarious location. In fact, an outside firm specializing in augmented reality and technology, Xtend, was brought into the mix.

With the company’s help the army prepared for the mission by making a mock-up of the nest site in one of their bases. Operators conducted practice flights for hours to prepare themselves for the real thing.

ITV Story

And then, the big moment arrived.

The first delivery was a success. And then, every two or three days, the “Mama” drone kept dropping food. The chick gobbled it up — and the father bird did not perceive the drone as a threat. You can get a better idea of the whole operation with this video:

This Griffon vulture was saved by a drone

Success story

The high-stakes gamble worked. “Mama” drone delivered the food regularly, and the chick thrived. In fact, just a few days ago it made its first flight.

It’s awesome to see stories like these and to realize there are still even more #DronesForGood use-case scenarios being discovered.

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