discussion / Drones  / 29 January 2024

Using drone or other unmanned vehicle for DNA sampling on fresh elephant dung in a Baï, Congo Rainforest.

Hi all,

Elephant listening project and WWF CAR are working on elephant identification in Dzanga Baï (clearance in the forest) since several years now. We would like to compare our genealogy trees based on individual identification with DNA sampling, and understand forest elephant social and mating system.

The problem is that we would need DNA sampling of the specific individual observed in the baï after a defecation. But there is something 150+ elephant at the same time, and we can't disturb them. The terrain of the Baï is wet with water flows, mud, holes, grass, so something flying seems to be more adapted. But elephant are scared of conventional drones (such as DJI) so it will need to be smaller and silent or maybe display a bird call find in the baï (duck?).

So any ideas how we could sample in the context? Anyone use a drone that could also work here, or know an engineer team that would be interested?


I love this idea.

Even the lighter-than-air type drones that I know of have propellers and make a whirring noise when in controlled flight.

I wonder if time might be the key ingredient?  Perhaps you could map the individual samples that want to be collected from a distance, then wait for the elephants to move away before going into collect specimens?

How fresh is fresh enough?

Hi Antoine,

I would recommend talking to the engineers at Outreach Robotics - @Gcharron .

We have been working on collecting tools for rare plants, and I would guess it wouldn't be a huge adjustment to collect elephant dung.  I think the amount of dung required for analysis will drive the size of the collecting drone. Maybe the drone could be up very high to not disturb the elephants with a long line sampling mechanism?