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©Eufmd , Deploying the Drone in Nakuru


Game of Drones


Surveillance on neighbouring farms to infected premises is a real issue in FMD control in any country. New ways to detect disease early on these and reduce the use of automatic slaughter of the herds on these farms as used in the past, such as the UK in 2001, is a priority. The EuFMD even trialled infra-red cameras used from helicopters in Israel, but the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) brings new possibilities. It also brings a new tool for beaming images of disease control options back to control centres, and monitoring human activities. The press might also use them to see what the vets are doing. Potentially, they may even replace vets as being first responders to visit infected premises, since scarcity of trained vets can be an issue in the midst of an epidemic crisis. Using the opportunity of the  EuFMD Real Time Training courses, which have since 2009 trained over 550 vets in the field in Turkey, Kenya and Nepal, the potential for use of drones for surveillance was trialed during the 21st real time course in March 2015. Dan Office, the IT equipment provider to FAO,  was contacted and sent out a drone, the HugginX1 quadricopter with a driver, Jacob Petersen.

The trial use identified by the EuFMD was mainly surveillance of the area before carrying out an inspection by vets.  This could save time as the drones are given a route which can carry out an aerial recognition of the area in very little time. The video feed back to the driver also allows to identify exact location of the animals, and use of the infra-red could detect animals (including ones hidden from inspection!) .

The drone used was installed with a 16megapixel camera which provides a live feed to the driver’s iPad/laptop, and the feed can also be analyzed subsequently for an epidemiological report or further visits.

Differentiating febrile from normal animals is a severe challenge for the type of cameras currently used but may be more possible in near future. The HugginX1 can fly up to 300 metres above ground and as low as one meter; but normal regulations mean it should not be flown higher than 100 metres or out of line of sight (driver visual control). During the trial run in Kenya, the drone was in the air and surveying the livestock distribution faster than vets could change in to biosecurity suits and get onto the same farms  - although the vets won the battle of who is best able to recognize FMD. But used in conjunction with veterinary visits, the drone might have identified the nearest grazing livestock to the infected ones, or animals hidden from inspection, or even , if it could be afforded, used to ”patrol” the area to guard against illegal movements of animals off potentially infected farms. The drones are “ruggedized” so they can be swiped with disinfectant and detergents if required. They fit in a backpack so are easy to carry and have a number of rechargeable batteries. More and more options are coming onto the market, and more and more uses found – the real challenge is probably the software side, to more automatically count animals and locate them in space to direct teams on the ground. “Droning on” at our training courses has never been so interesting.