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In the past few years, over half of Indonesia’s rain forests — the world’s third largest — have been lost to logging and agribusiness. ConservationDrones member Keeyen Pang is doing something about it.

Pang, a tractor parts and service dealer for a local oil palm plantation in Sabah, Malaysia, has been flying radio controlled planes and helicopters for more than twenty years. Spatial imaging had grown more and more important to the oil palm business, but with piloted aircraft being prohibitively expensive, Pang searched the web for alternatives, where he discovered DIYDrones and ConservationDrones.org. Soon he’d joined the ConservationDrones Asia team, testing airframes and fine tuning systems to work with APM for research and other use.

Pang first visited Indonesia’s Sumatra rainforest, now a restoration project under national protection, with ConservationDrones co-founders Serge Wich and Lian Pin Khoo. The reserve area is too large to efficiently monitor from the ground (a few hundred thousand hectares), and helicopters and planes are too expensive. The bird’s-eye map and video they get from the IRIS (check out Pang’s review here) offer a comprehensive understanding of the area surveyed. The group’s main objectives are to monitor and map the restoration area and to perform orangutan nest counts; if they fly at an altitude of about 100 meters, the high-resolution pictures are good enough for a trained eye to identify the nests.

Pang flies the 3DR IRIS because it works “right out of the box.” He uses mission planner to plan survey routes, and the vertical take-off and landing are especially useful in a tropical forest where it’s often tough to find a landing spot for planes or a fixed-wing drone. He says he’ll continue to fly regularly over the area and monitor changes over time. Drones also make it easy and safe to detect encroachment and illegal activity within the reserve, he added.

To learn more about ConservationDrones, check out this great TED Talk.