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Wolves like fetch, too

Fight, flee, or…play? Paul Wolf (an apt name) and his team at USDA Wildlife Services in Oregon flew a drone over a wolf, the canine type. They expected the noise and the motion would cause the wolf to freeze or run. Instead, it took a happy play position, head low, rear high, front legs stretched out, wagging its tail. Hmmm. They had hoped to scare the wolf, in a test of drones for stopping attacks on livestock.

That night they re-flew the drone, now fitted with a speaker playing human voices. It worked, even when three wolves attacked a steer. This is promising as an alternative to killing wolves and other predators – a million a year these days. If drones get reliable and cheap enough for ranchers to use them essentially automatically, the ranchers win and the wolves win. The challenges are getting drones to fly long enough, not overheat in thin air, make their routes automatic, call out the rancher in time to intervene (the flights don’t last long enough to complete the deterrence), and get the ranchers or their hands licensed for drone flying. The automatic calls to the ranchers are doable, and the licensing, too; lengthening flights is tougher.

Rancher Daniel Anderson is a drone user. He is concerned that too much drone flying will disturb other wildlife. Lots work to do!

 This has been an outreach activity of the Las Cruces Academy.

Story from High Country News, April 2024

Vince grew up in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. He has enjoyed a long career in science, starting in chemistry and physics and moving through plant physiology, ecology, remote sensing, and agronomy.
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  • KRWG explores the world of science every week with Vince Gutschick, Chair of the Board, Las Cruces Academy lascrucesacademy.org and New Mexico State University Professor Emeritus, Biology.