Wild Thought: Using Drones to Manage Wild Horses!

December 6, 2019

The US Bureau of Land Management is tasked with managing wild horses in a healthy and sustainable manner.

Did you know that there are nearly 100,000 wild horses living on roughly ¼ of a billion acres of public land managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service combined? Known as Mustangs, these wild horses descend from horses brought to North America by the Spanish in the 1500s and 1600s as well as other domestic horses that escaped or were turned out over the centuries. These horses became protected by US law in 1971 and now represent a large management challenge for the US Department of the Interior as their population continues to grow well beyond the Appropriate Management Level, set by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), of 26,7000 wild horses. GreenSight is working with Humane Horse Handling to use drone technology to develop methods to help manage these populations.

The BLM is tasked by Congress to manage the largest population of wild horses in a healthy and sustainable manner. A major challenge is that when resources are plentiful the herds can grow rapidly, up to 20% per year! With large ranges and no predators, this means they can explode in boom years, and then collapse from starvation in future years. Active management and population control is vital for maintaining these populations in a healthy manner. This is highly challenging due to their Mustang’s wide-ranging habitats, large body size and skittish nature. Chasing the horses into capture traps using helicopters is the most common method to round them horses up for removal or for fertility control treatment. This is highly labor intensive, stressful on the herds, and in many cases not very effective for sustainable population control. Animals can be moved to holding facilities but they require expensive long-term care. Injectable contraceptives are also used to suppress population growth, but the cost and feasibility of repeated capture for treatment has limited their use.

Humane Horse Handling is an organization founded to develop new humane and practical methods to manage wild and domestic horse populations. Their page on wild horses explains the challenges in more depth. HHH recently conducted a project using drones to “lead” horses into pens. Once refined for large-scale application, this method has the potential to be less expensive and less labor intensive than using helicopters or other current techniques. This leading technique is based on a natural tendency of horses to follow novel “intruders” as they retreat, in this case a drone piloted in a fashion that maintains their curious concern without scaring them away. The leaders of the herds will trail the drone, with the rest of their herd following behind, allowing the drone to lead the entire herd into a corral at an easy, steady pace so that families remain together.

View from a drone leading a herd of wild horses

Drones represent a new, high tech way to manage these wild horse populations in a humane and low cost manner. GreenSight is excited about this new application for drones and is working with Humane Horse Handling to make it a reality. GreenSight’s Dreamer drone is ideally suited to this application. A drone is required that isn’t too loud, can fly slowly but also has a very long flight time. The dreamer is the longest endurance small multicopter in the industry, able to fly for 60 minutes with payload. Due to its high efficiency it is also quiet. Once GreenSight and HHH discussed the application it was clear that Dreamer was not only the ideal platform for this application but potentially the only aircraft on the market able to meet the requirements for HHH’s plans to expand their unique with horse gather method to a larger scale. GreenSight gets extremely excited about applications for drones that leverage the unique advantages of the technology to enable completely new ways of approaching problems!

HHH is a 501c non-profit and currently running a gofundme campaign to raise funding for the next stage of their project. Read more about their fundraising campaign on the gofundme website.

Author

Andrew Delollis

VP Engineering

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