Discover the Conservationists of Aerial Work Aviation

It’s vital to balance the needs of wildlife with the needs of people, i.e., 'Wildlife Management'. If you didn’t know, Aerial Work aviation is a significant player in this effort of protecting and preserving the species and habitats between humans and the environment of the world. Find out more about this fascinating sector…

Patrick Ryan  |  09th March 2022
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    Patrick Ryan
    Patrick Ryan

    Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and business...

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    Herd of elephants photographed from the air

    Every day, many men and women are committed to protecting species and habitats. In most cases, a handful of wildlife management professionals cover thousands of square miles on foot, SUVs, and horses across many diverse ecological corners of the globe to preserve the natural world we know.

    Unfortunately, they are at times out-manned and under-equipped in their efforts to end issues like poaching and illegal logging.

    However, when it comes to wildlife managers around the globe mitigating these challenges, the power of aviation is a critical tool in giving them the upper hand or chance to succeed.

    The Aerial Work aviation sector is working hard to provide aerial conservation services while taking direct responsibility to help defend endangered wildlife in remaining protected and remote areas by delivering specialised aviation capabilities to government agencies and conservation organisations.

    To better understand what this Aerial Work aviation sector actually does, we need to focus on what Wildlife Management and the types of Aerial Conservation aviation explicitly provide. Additionally, like other Aerial Work aviation sectors, we need to concentrate on the specific types of aircraft and technology they employ or ‘what works best’ for the Wildlife Management community to get the right results.

    Wildlife Management Triad

    In its basic form, Wildlife Management controls interactions among and between flora and fauna, habitats, and people to achieve predefined effects. It tries to balance the needs of wildlife with the needs of people using the best available science. Wildlife Management can include wildlife conservation, game-keeping, and pest control.

    As mentioned before, today, wildlife conservation has evolved into a science. Still, its goal remains essentially the same, i.e., to ensure the wise use and management of renewable resources — maintaining a healthy relationship between the ecosystem of humans and the environment.

    Given the right circumstances and effort, living organisms that we call renewable resources in our world’s ecosystem can replenish themselves indefinitely. The bottom line is that conservation is the wise use of natural resources without wasting them.

    Simply, it’s a management environment that is built around 1. People, 2. Habitats, and 3. Wildlife — i.e., a ‘Triad’. Within this, there are two general types of Wildlife Management methods used: Manipulative Management, and Custodial Management…

    Manipulative Management

    Manipulative Management acts on a specific wildlife population, either changing its numbers by direct means or influencing numbers by the indirect means of altering food supply, habitat, the density of predators, or disease occurrence. This effort is appropriate when a population decreases or increases to an unacceptable level.

    Custodial Management

    Custodial Management is preventive or protective. Custodial Management aims to minimise external influences on the population and its habitat. For example, it is appropriate in a national park where one of the stated goals is to protect ecological processes through control mechanisms. 

    It is also appropriate to conserve a threatened species where the threat is of external origin rather than being natural to the system, e.g., feeding animals by park visitors, which is generally discouraged.

    Aerial Conservation Operations

    So, what does this unique Aerial Work sector do to support the Wildlife Management Triad? From an obvious utility and essential perspective, Aerial Work aviation provides the means to mitigate the tyranny of distance, time, and expense associated with managing large areas of habitats and specific ecosystems.

    However, the specific types of services and flight operations routinely requested and conducted by aerial conservationists are much different from other Aerial Work sectors but designed to support the Wildlife Management community.

    Types of Services

    Even though Aerial Conservation services are adaptable to all wildlife and conservation operations, the primary services provided to Wildlife Management government officials and managers included:

    • Analysis Analysis delivers actual or near real-time situational information and monitoring of species and habitats for all key end-users as needed, e.g., helping assess risk, monitoring, and crisis decision-making.
    • Prevention – Prevention provides better capabilities for an organisation to help reduce the likelihood of damaging or illegal activity associated with particular habitats and species.
    • Intervention Intervention is people’s deliberate and targeted involvement in changing wild species’ population, structure, or distribution, particularly terrestrial mammals and birds.
    • Transportation – Transportation moves humans, flora and fauna, plus equipment and technology associated with specialised wildlife management tasks, e.g., capturing, gathering biological samples, placing radio and satellite collars, and handling wild animals.

    To break this down further and as a sample, aerial conservationists routinely provide these types of focused services:

    • Habitat and Rangeland Evaluation
    • Aerial Census and Classification
    • Animal Capture through Herding, Drive Netting, Corral Trapping, Net Gunning, or Chemical Immobilisation
    • Feral Animal and Predator Eradication
    • Veterinary Services from Vaccination to Transportation
    • Population Management
    • Fowl Nest Surveys
    • And many more…

    Types of Flight Operations

    As mentioned before, Aerial Conservation services undertake a wide variety of concentrated tasks.

    This could include aerial counts, drop-offs for ground surveys in remote areas, darting, chemical immobilisation, net gunning, taking, classification, herding, drive netting, corralling, and supporting research projects.

    To get a feel for what it takes to fly one of these operations, a typical aerial wildlife survey or count requires an aircraft to fly ‘low & slow’ so aerial observers can adequately identify their target species.

    For waterfowl counts, fixed-wing aircraft generally fly 500ft between targeted waterbodies. When over the waterbody, aircraft generally descend to 100-150ft at a ground speed of 90 to 110 knots (22 knots for rotor-wing aircraft) to correctly acquire, track and identify.

    When it comes to medium & large mammal counts (e.g., deer, wild pigs, goats, and even kangaroos), fixed-wing aircraft will be flown at a height of 250ft and a ground speed of 100 knots, while rotor-wing aircraft at a height of 150ft and a ground speed of 50 knots.

    Aerial Conservationist

    With an ever-growing human population and shrinking natural habitats worldwide, this onerous duty of Wildlife Management primarily lies with government bodies, charities, and privately hired gamekeepers and contractors.

    When it comes to the aviators that support such organisations, the majority are non-profit groups, private aviation firms, or independent contractors hired to provide specific aerial services. Here are three Aerial Work organisations that genuinely specialise in or focus on Aerial Wildlife Management operations…

    Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Airwing

    The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Airwing was established in 1990 with more than 40 pilots to provide air support services to wildlife management efforts across Kenya. The Airwing is based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi with an active fleet of 12 light and three medium aircraft, including a Bell 206 helicopter, Cessna 182, Cessna 206, Cessna 208 Caravan, and four Aviat Huskys.

    KWS Airwing provides law enforcement services and patrol flights, veterinary support services for research and translocation purposes, animal tracking, wildlife census, firefighting, rescue work, and transportation of rations and supplies, including ammunition for anti-poaching operations.

    Canadian Wildlife Capture

    Canadian Wildlife Capture (CWC) was formed in 2012 to assist users in the ongoing management of wildlife. CWC is based out of Powell River, B.C., and works throughout Western Canada. 

    CWC primarily uses MD500 helicopters to provide net gunning, darting, ear tagging, radio/satellite collar mounting, biological sampling, control/removal/culling, and animal relocations.

    The Bateleurs

    Formed in 1998, The Bateleurs is a South African non-profit company that provides decision-makers, researchers, educators, and other non-profit companies with an aerial perspective of the environment. Since its formation, the Bateleurs has coordinated several diverse missions throughout South Africa and Africa generally to support conservation and wildlife issues.

    On 27 July 2021, eight African Wild Dogs were relocated successfully from South Africa and Mozambique to Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve, in an historic project to reintroduce this endangered species to Malawi. Bateleurs volunteers accomplished the translocation project flying a Pilatus PC-12 with its capabilities of providing a spacious cabin for eight sedated dogs, high-speed, an all-weather avionics system, and the ability to land on unpaved runways.

    Aircraft & Kit Composition

    The composition of aircraft & kit used in Aerial Conservation varies from manned and unmanned aircraft and, in some cases, heavier-than-air (Aerodyne) to lighter-than-air (Aerostat) platforms. However, today’s predominant aircraft are still fixed-wing and rotary-wing manned aircraft.

    Manned Aircraft

    The dominant aircraft types in the manned aircraft field are either single or twin-prop STOL/medium-lift airframes or modified light-lift rotary-wing platforms. In the task of habitat and rangeland evaluation, the most common aircraft are fixed-wing, such as:

    • ICP – ICP Savannah
    • Cessna – C-172, C-180
    • Pilatus – PC-12

    Nothing matches a helicopter for animal capture through drive netting, corral trapping, net gunning, or chemical immobilisation. As mentioned before, helicopters can manoeuvre like a park ranger on horseback but with many more benefits. 

    Some of the most common cost-effective but practical helicopters used today for aerial ‘down & dirty’ operations are:

    • Robinson – R22, R44
    • Bell – Bell 407s
    • M.D. Helicopters – MD530FF

    Unmanned Aircraft

    In Wildlife Management, drone technology has become even more popular in recent years. Today, drones count animals that congregate, especially those in herds, such as snow goose and wildebeest. In addition, they’re used to finding and identifying animals in hard-to-access remote locations.

    Additionally, drones are utilised in counter-poaching operations and to map habitats. The benefits of using such technology are evident in many fields, including environmental sciences.

    Undoubtedly, unmanned Aerial Work aircraft are expanding in their support of the conservation sector. In addition, the unmanned aircraft industry sector is expanding its platform options to supply park rangers and researchers with an affordable option to make a difference between saving a species or failure.

    Like the manned aircraft sector, the unmanned sector is currently expanding in flying the skies over forests, oceans, and urban areas with both fixed-wing and rotary-wing unmanned aircraft, but on a much lower and smaller scale – for now.

    Depending on the scale of the project, the current leading providers of data collecting platforms in the unmanned aircraft OEM sector are:

    • Unmanned Research – Long Ranger 7, Osprey Mark III (Gas or Electric)
    • DJI – Phantom 4 RTK
    • SenseFly – eBee Plus


    As you can see, the Aerial Work aviation sector plays a critical part in many global Wildlife Management efforts. Remarkably, both manned and unmanned aircraft of all types are used to protect and preserve the species and habitats between humans and the world’s environment.

    Because of the unique capabilities aircraft deliver, the Wildlife Management and Conservationist community are better equipped to make a difference.

    Even though mankind is just one part of a more extensive ecosystem, it has more of the responsibility to ensure the balance between all creatures and things. Besides researchers, park rangers, veterinarians, and volunteers of all types managing species and habitats, the Aerial Work aviation sector will continue to stay in the field directly working with these conservationists to make a difference.

    Until endangered and threatened species are fully protected, Aerial Work aviation will continue to fly in the most vulnerable habitats to help preserve our physical plant.

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