Thermal aerial culling for the control of vertebrate pest populations


Tarnya E. Cox , David Paine , Emma O’Dwyer‑Hall , Robert Matthews , Tony Blumson ,

Brenton Florance , Kate Fielder , Myall Tarran , Matt Korcz , Annelise Wiebkin ,

Peter W. Hamnett , Corey J. A. Bradshaw  & Brad Page.


Helicopter-based shooting is an effective management tool for large vertebrate pest animals. However, animals in low-density populations and/or dense habitat can be difficult to locate visually. Thermal-imaging technology can increase detections in these conditions. We used thermal-imaging equipment with a specific helicopter crew configuration to assist in aerial culling for feral pigs (Sus scrofa) and fallow deer (Dama dama) in South Australia in 2021. Seventy-two percent of pigs and 53% of deer were first detected in dense canopy/tall forest habitat. Median time from the first impact shot to incapacitation was < 12 s. The culling rate (animals hour− 1) doubled compared to visual shoots over the same populations and the wounding rate was zero resulting in a incapacitation efficiency of 100%.

The crew configuration gave the shooter a wide field of view and the thermal operator behind the shooter provided essential support to find new and escaping animals, and to confirm species identification and successful removal. The crew configuration allowed for successful target acquisition and tracking, with reduced target escape. The approach can increase the efficiency of aerial culling, has the potential to increase the success of programs where eradication is a viable option, and can improve animal welfare outcomes by reducing wounding rates and the escape of target animals.

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