High above the forest of the Sierra de las Nieves there is a saviour in the sky. It is s drone on a medical mission. Below it roam the Iberian wild goats known as the Spanish Ibex. But the population is being ravaged by scabies – sarcoptes scabiei is the medical name. It is a parasitic infection that can be transmitted to people and animals.
The mites burrow into the skin causing the goats itching and infection. The drones are in the air to help tackle the problem. Scientists shoot darts to sedate the goats and then blood samples are taken for analysis in the laboratory.
“It is always going to be better to use a drone because we invariably get an improved perspective. Looked at from the ground there are always bushes, rocks and mountains, so at the time of targeting this type of animal with a dart, they stampede for the ten minutes it takes them to fall to the ground. In that case with a drone you can always continue to track down the animal,” explained Saul Matthew, founder of Airronerc.
Scientists can use two drones at the same time to guide the ibex towards the places they want them to go, such as a semi-enclosed area where food containing medicine can be left without posing a danger to other wild animals. They act as the shepherds in the sky.
“The second advantage of using drones is when we are capturing the animals. We capture them, treat them and return them to their natural habitat. But sometimes, because of the anaesthetic given to these animals when they’re being captured, they can get lost, so the drones are very helpful in locating the animals,” said Felix Gomez-Guillamon Manrique Head veterinarian of the Spanish Ibex Project.
Scientists believe this technology could be used in the future to monitor other endangered species like the lynx.