How Drones Can Help Prevent the Spread of Diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

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How Drones Can Help Prevent the Spread of Diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

Drones, also commonly known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have revolutionized every industry that they have been utilized. One area where drones have proven themselves to be extremely effective is in the battle against the spread of infectious diseases. For example, chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a highly contagious disease that affects deer, elk and other cervid populations, and drones are being used to help contain the spread of this terrible disease. The fight against prion diseases, like chronic wasting disease, is extremely important as it is fatal to not only deer, elk, and moose but also poses a risk to primates. Because of this the World Health Organization has recommended that all known prion diseases need to be kept from entering the human food chain, as they may pose a significant risk, even to us. As of2022 around 391 counties across twenty-nine states have reported CWD among the free-ranging cervid population, with the use of drones we might just have a hope in curbing the spread of this disease. In this article, we will explore the ways in which drones can help stop the spread of diseases like CWD.


What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

We just mentioned how chronic wasting disease (CWD) was a highly contagious prion disease among many cervid populations. But you’re probably asking yourself a few questions: What does CWD do? What is a prion disease? Basically, a prion disease is one that is categorized by misfolded proteins that damage the brain and nervous system of its host. Because of this, CWD is characterized by symptoms such as weight loss, lack of coordination, and abnormal natural behavior. Currently the disease is always fatal as we’ve failed to develop any form of cure. Additionally, it spreads rapidly through populations. For example, whilst it is less common in free-ranging animals than those in captivity, infection rates often exceed 10 percent of the local population, sometimes exceeding 25 percent.

Chronic wasting disease was identified in the 1960s in captive deer located in Colorado, and finally in wild deer by the 1980s. Since the 1960s it has spread to wild populations in 26 states across the United States, as well as Canada, Norway, and South Korea. CWD is a serious threat to cervid populations and ecosystems across the United States. In addition to obvious ethical concerns surrounding the suffering of infected animals, the disease has also had significant economic impacts on hunting and wildlife tourism with in locations that have cases of CWD. Additionally, because there is a concern that CWD could potentially infect other species, including humans, it is important to take every measure to prevent the spread.

Alarmingly, the disease is believed to be spread through direct contact with infected animals, as well as through contaminated soil, water, and food. Traditional methods of deer recovery, like tracking dogs, require disturbing and coming into contact with a large amount of wildlife in the pursuit to locate your game, whilst tools like drones allow for hunters to pinpoint the location of the taken game, and minimize their contact with other animals. But this is far from the only benefit that drones provide.


How Drones Can Help:

Drones have a number of impressive advantages over traditional monitoring methods when it comes to disease surveillance. One of the biggest advantages is their ability to cover large areas quickly and efficiently. For example, our Drone Deer Recovery operators can search up to 500 acres of land within a 2-hour period. Covering such large areas allows for the monitoring of large populations of deer, even in remote areas that would otherwise be difficult to access on foot or by vehicle.

Our drones are equipped with thermal imaging cameras, which can be deployed to detect changes in body temperature, which is an essential early sign of disease. In the past, researchers have used this same technology to identify sick animals in other populations, such as bats infected with white-nose syndrome. Therefore, you can imagine the application that this technology has in monitoring deer, which are realistically far easier to track than bats.

Drone scan also potentially be used for the collection of samples from animals for disease testing. This is particularly useful for two major reasons; firstly, drones can be used to access remote areas which may prove difficult for the transportation of samples for lab analysis. Secondly, the use of drones limits human contact with potential disease carrying deer. So, if drones are equipped with the means to collect blood or tissue samples this could drastically reduce the risk of disease transmission to humans.

Scientists in Western Canada are currently conducting a $1.28-million research project in an attempt to develop an oral vaccine in the hopes of reducing the spread of chronic wasting disease among the wild deer population. Therefore, drones could also be used to deploy these vaccines to the deer populations at risk of developing a CWD outbreak. Drone equipment such as spray nozzles could be used to deliver a vaccination to a large number of deer extremely efficiently.

Lastly, drones can be used for the purpose of mapping and monitoring the movement of deer populations. This would prove essential in tracking the spread of diseases like CWD, as well as identifying areas of high risk. By collecting data on the movement patterns of deer, researchers can better understand how the disease spread and develop strategies for reduction. Similarly, here at Deer Drone Recovery our operators have utilized drones for conducting herd analysis for various landowners, allowing for the monitoring of local deer populations.

There is no doubt that drones have already been used in this manner, as they’re an invaluable tool. For example, drones have been used in South Korea to monitor the spread of avian influenza and used to monitor the spread of white-nose syndrome among bat populations in the United States. In the case of drone use in South Korea, drones were deployed to collect fecal samples from wild birds in remote wetland areas. These samples were then analyzed for the presence of the avian influenza virus. Therefore, drones allowed for early detection of the disease, preventing its spread to domestic bird populations.

Brief Recap:

We’ve covered quite a lot in this article so here’s a brief recap of the major points in favor of the use of drones for preventing and monitoring the spread of disease among deer populations across the United States:

· Drones can cover huge areas of land quickly and efficiently. For example, our operators are able to cover up to 500 acres of land within a small 2-hour window.

· Like our own drones, thermal imaging cameras can be equipped to detect changes in body temperature, which can indicate early signs of diseases among deer. Technology that has been used in preventing the spread of disease among other animal species.

· Drones can be used to remotely collect samples from animals for testing in a laboratory. The use of drones limits the possibility of contamination and is amore ethical alternative to traditional invasive methods.

· Drones have the possibility to act as a means of vaccine deliverance. Using drones to deliver vaccines would be quick and efficient, preventing any further spread of disease.

· Our own operators use drones to conduct herd analysis. Similarly, drones can be used to monitor deer populations for the purpose of preventing and controlling the spread of disease.

· The monitoring of deer populations can also identify local wildlife that is at a heightened risk of coming into contact with already infected populations.


The case for drone use in disease control and prevention is a strong and clear one. Drones have proven to be amazing tools, not only in the industries that they’re commonly used in, but also for the scientific community. Further development and adoption of drones by the scientific and wildlife conservation industries will only benefit us, and the animals we wish to preserve. A great way to begin utilizing this aspect of drones is through Drone Deer Recovery’s herd analysis service, where we can provide you with detailed and essential information regarding the population of deer on your land, the buck to doe ratio, and much more. With the use of our thermal cameras, it is possible to report abnormally high heat-signatures from the deer population, which would allow you to act swiftly in dealing with a potential CWD outbreak. Ultimately, it is only through the further adoption of drones that we can hope to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among deer populations.

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