discussion / Drones  / 25 December 2023

Seeking Advice on Thermal Drones for Night-Time Elephant Observation

Hi everyone,

I'm looking for an affordable yet effective thermal drone to observe elephants at night in Sri Lanka, aiming to address human-elephant conflict. Has anyone used thermal drones for similar wildlife studies? I'd greatly appreciate any model recommendations or tips on capturing clear thermal images from a distance.

Thanks in advance for your insights!

Hey Nilaksha,


Although I may not be of much use for recommending a specific drone, I thought I would mentioned some software that may be of use to you for something like this.


  1. ThruTracker: Counts animals and tracks their movements from 2D and 3D video. Can use regular video as well as thermal imaging with this software. It's also free!
  2. AgiSoft Metashape: Software that performs photogrammetric processing of digital images and video into beautifully detailed 3D models with spatial data integrated into the models (can also be used in GIS and for indirect measurements of various objects/distributions).

Just thought I would mention these in case you may find use of them with this project! Goodluck! Sounds very interesting.

Lars Holst Hansen
Aarhus University
Biologist and Research Technician working with ecosystem monitoring and research at Zackenberg Research Station in Greenland
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Hi Nilaksha!

I haven't yet any experience in thermal imaging but we are going to buy the DJI Mavic 3 Enyterprise Thermal early next year to use for finding bird nests on the tundra in Greenland.

It has been highly recommended by colleagues.

I don't know of many similar models besides perhaps some made by Autel:


I have not seen it myself, but have heard nice things about this new book by Kayleigh Fawcett Williams:



I'll add another plug for DJI Mavic 3T. I know of a group in Vietnam using it to find elephants at night. 

Also, I'll say that thermal doesn't seem to be very useful for finding or counting elephants under canopy cover. I've tried this without success and other people I've spoken to reported the same. 

Hi Nilaksha,



I work for Wildlife Drones, based in Canberra, Australia. We have a drone package that can carry a thermal camera, which has been used very successfully for locating and counting koala, amongst other creatures. It is mounted on the very robust FreeFly Astro drone. One advantage of this system is that the payload can be swapped out for other devices with different capabilities. We also offer a radio telemetry payload, called Dragonfly, which is capable of tracking 40 tags at once. This payload is interchangeable with the thermal camera. Obviously, having the ability to change the payload maximises the investment in the drone. If you jump on our website, you can make your own determinations about its suitability. Happy to chat if you wish: [email protected]. My only word of caution is to tread carefully when selecting a drone as many will not take an appropriate payload, and many do not have shielded wiring so create "noise" that obscures tag signals, making animals harder to locate.

I hope this was useful.