2023 journal article

Ungulate responses and habituation to unmanned aerial vehicles in Africa's savanna

PLOS ONE, 18(7).

By: M. vanVuuren, R. vanVuuren, L. Silverberg n, J. Manning n, K. Pacifici n, W. Dorgeloh n, J. Campbell n

co-author countries: United States of America 🇺🇸
Source: Web Of Science
Added: August 21, 2023

This article tests the hypothesis that "the likelihood that the species will react and level at which they do to the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is related to the altitude, number of passes, sound intensity, type of UAV, takeoff distance, and species." This paper examined the behavioral responses of a group of free ranging ungulate species (Oryx, Kudu, Springbok, Giraffe, Eland, Hartebeest, and Impala) found in an animal reserve in Namibia to the presence of different in-flight UAV models. The study included 397 passes (trials) over 99 flights at altitudes ranging from 15 to 55 meters in three categories of response level: No response, Alert, and Movement. The ungulates were unhabituated to the UAVs and the study was conducted in the presence of stress-inducing events that occur naturally in the environment. Certain species were found to be more reactive than others, in addition to several displaying different response levels in single or mixed herd environments. Zebras were found to be less responsive in mixed herd environments while Oryx were present, as compared to when the Oryx were not; suggesting that some species may respond based on other species perception of threat or their relative fitness levels. The UAVs also produced inconsistent response rates between movement and alert behavior. The reference vehicle, Phantom 3 was much more likely than the Mavic to induce an alert response, while both having similar probabilities of inducing a movement response. Furthermore, the Custom X8 showed significantly more alert and movement responses than the other UAVs. This shows there may be several aspects to the UAVs that affect the responses of the ungulates. For instance, the sound intensity may alert the species more often, but close proximity may induce a movement response. More generally, the data shows that when the UAV is flying above 50 meters and has a measured sound intensity below 50 dB, the likelihood of inducing a movement response on an ungulate species is below 6% regardless of the vehicle on the first pass over the animals. Additionally, with each subsequent pass the likelihood of response dropped by approximately 20 percent. The results suggest a stronger correlation between flight altitude and response across the different ungulates, and the evidence suggests rapid habituation to the UAVs.