Conservationists in Israel have long been keeping a protective eye out for the Critically Endangered Griffon vulture as their number in the wild have dropped to less than 180. Efforts are made to tag and monitor birds in the wild by the “Under our Wing Project”. Cameras are also set up to monitor nesting sites, It was one of these cameras that alerted the conservationist to the impending disaster for one Griffon Family.
The conservationists monitoring one site, where two mature Griffon were raising a chick, noticed that the female parent did not return to the nest after going hunting. Griffon chicks rely heavily on both parents for their survival, as both parents need to do their fair share of the hunting and brining back carrion for the young one. It was later determined that the female Griffon had accidentally flown into power-lines and was killed, power lines and poison are the top two killers of these birds. This left the chick with a very slim chance of survival unless a constant food supply could be ensured.
At first, conservationists thought the only solution might be to send a climber up to the nest area. They would take the chick into captivity to ensure it could be regularly fed. It was not a popular option but it was better than the chick slowly starving or falling prey to another predator when the father went out to hunt. Ideas were tossed around and someone suggested using a drone to deliver food to the nest. A big concern was that the male griffon would perceive the drone as a treat and could try attacking it or the chick might be frightened by the drone and fall from the cliff-side nest.
The Israeli army was contacted, and soon, it was training for the delicate task of delivering and dropping its payload in a very precarious location. In fact, an outside firm specializing in augmented reality and technology, Xtend, was brought into the mix. With the company’s help, the army prepared for the mission by making a mock-up of the nest site in one of their bases. Operators conducted practice flights for hours to prepare themselves for the real thing.
The first delivery was a success. And then, every two or three days, the “Mama” drone kept dropping food. The chick gobbled it up and the father bird did not perceive the drone as a threat. The “Mama Drone” team were rewarded handsomely for their efforts when the thriving young Griffon made its first flight.
Unfortunately, information on the actual drone is not available as it is a classified Israeli Army weapon the went so far as to blur out the drone in all photos and videos.