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Infrared insight: Drones keep tabs on crop-ravaging boars in Japan

This image provided by Drone Pilot Agency Co. was taken by an infrared camera installed on a drone to search for pests.

SHIBATA, Niigata -- This city on the Sea of Japan coast tested out drones with infrared cameras on Dec. 7 to count and study the habitat of wild boars in a bid to collect information that could help prevent the beasts from ravaging local crops.

    The experiment was the first time Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, has used drones as a natural pest countermeasure, and officials hope the technology can also be applied to bears and other animals moving forward.

    The number of boar sightings in the city has increased over the years, as has the cost of the agricultural damage the animals inflict, rising to up to some 1.2 million yen (roughly $11,532) in fiscal 2019, much of it to rice fields. Boars wallow in the mud to rid themselves of parasitic mites and manage their body temperature, and they often use rice fields. Rice plants crushed by wallowing boars, as well as plants that end up smelling like the wild pigs, cannot be harvested.

    A drone is seen taking off to search for wild pests in Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, on Dec. 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Yosuke Tsuyuki)

    The drone test was run by DMM Agri Innovation, a Tokyo-based company that uses information and communications technology (ICT) to combat damage from wild animals, and the Shibata Municipal Government. The drone rose to a height of between 100 and 150 meters, and snapped infrared photos of the woods and thickets within about 2 kilometers of the operator, to be examined for boars and other wild pests.

    The municipal government has taken boar countermeasures, such as setting up a total of about 85 kilometers of electric fence. Officials say that they will use the drones to analyze boar trails to consider more effective ways to implement electric fences and traps.

    The city will establish model areas, and use ICT to strive to prevent damage by wild animals in collaboration with the local community. Officials envision a scenario where local private firms operate drones using technology provided by DMM to spot pests, which can then be captured by hunting organizations.

    The head of Shibata's agriculture and fisheries section commented, "I felt once again that drone technology has real potential. We'd like to use ICT in all three methods of keeping pests at bay: preventing them from nearing the area, chasing them away, or trapping them."

    (Japanese original by Yosuke Tsuyuki, Niigata Bureau)

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