Aerial surveys of deer – helicopters and drones

News | February 14, 2022
By Johannes Wenzel, Cardinia Deer Management Coalition

The Cardinia Deer Management Coalition’s aerial helicopter survey of feral deer in the Cardinia Creek Catchment area was completed in July under good weather conditions.

When I spoke with the pilot after the flight on Sunday morning his first question was: “Is there a deer farm up there? I saw a group of 30 deer in an open paddock”.

He was amazed at the number of deer identified along the transects they flew. The results indicated there are 15 deer per square kilometre, which is high!

Aerial surveys of deer - helicopters and drones
Aerial surveys of deer – helicopters and drones

The report will be considered by the various stakeholders and will inform control programs.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle drones with thermal imaging cameras are now cutting-edge technology for the detection and monitoring of feral deer, as highlighted recently on an ABC Landline program. Locating deer and monitoring their movements can help ground control operations and in understanding the behaviour of deer.

Bill Incoll from Monbulk Landcare Group and the Friends of Sherbrooke Forest Group recently organised a drone demonstration by Field Master Systems on a farm near Olinda. The demonstration was followed by another demonstration in Belgrave South with three landowners that also included pest animal controllers Ultor P/L.

They set up a base station with a large screen on the back of a ute, giving seven observers a bird’s-eye view of the pictures transmitted from the drone. It took only a few minutes from take-off for the drone to show clearly one group of four and another of five just 250 metres away. Over radio contact the drone operator guided the shooters towards the deer and the first one was taken out very shortly followed by another four. Fog limited further flying. Very impressive!

The landowners were very keen on removing the carcasses and ideally the meat will be used for human or pet consumption under licence by Ultor P/L, who works with an abattoir that processes deer meat.

There are many new and emerging tools available for deer control and management. A few examples that deserve more discussion amongst our network members include:

  • Detection of deer (drones, helicopters, thermal scopes, gundogs, hunting dogs, hounds, cameras).
  • Kinship DNA analysis to better understand movement and distribution of deer.
  • Deterrents to protect assets and for road safety.
  • Commercial use of wild caught deer meat.