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SKILLS REINFORCEMENT: the two ultralight aircraft pilots of the Comoé National Park trained in aerial photography techniques

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In view of the threats to the Comoé National Park, the North-East Zone Directorate of the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves is still in the process of strengthening the surveillance of the Park through very efficient ecological monitoring, in particular thanks to aerial inventories of fauna and cartography based on aerial photographs. These activities are part of the Comoé National Park Biodiversity Protection Project, Phase II, funded by German financial cooperation through KfW, with technical support from the AHT Group / AMBERO / CSRS consortium.

© Xavier Vincke

As part of the implementation of the agreement signed last May between Aviation Sans Frontières Belgique (ASFB) and the OIPR for the implementation of the aerial surveillance roadmap and the realization of the 2025 aerial inventory in the Comoé National Park, a team from ASFB traveled to Côte d'Ivoire. Xavier Vincke, Director of Programs, stayed in Bouna from July 13 to 21, 2023. Stéphane Carré, ULM Pilot-Instructor, will stay there until August 4.

This mission has multiple objectives which are:

  • Strengthening the skills of the two OIPR microlight pilots in surveillance flights and ecological monitoring
  • Support for the rehabilitation and establishment of aerodromes in the Park
  • Identification of equipment and suppliers for the maintenance of the ULM
  • Support for the development of the skills development plan for pilots and other stakeholders in surveillance and ecological monitoring
  • Support for the development of the strategy for the use of microlights aircrafts and airplanes at the level of the PNC
© Xavier Vincke

Xavier Vincke accompanied Stéphane in this first mission, in order to adapt different aerial photography techniques to the Bat Hawk ultralight aircraft and to transfer these skills to the two pilots of the OIPR. A major challenge is in particular to adapt to the Bat AHwk uktralight aircraft the methodology of aerial photographic inventory of the fauna of the Park.

It is important to point out that this methodology was used by ASFB in 2022 during the aerial inventory of the fauna of the Comoé Park and makes it possible to count animals automatically, in particular thanks to an artificial intelligence algorithm developed by the University of Liège, Gembloux Agro Bio Tech.

This methodology, developed with a Cessna 206, is not easy to adapt to a microlight aircraft. But, with the help of the developper of the aircraft, Micro Aviation SA and several partners, ASFB has developed a prototype of outdoor camera mounting system which has already produced very satisfactory results during tests in the Comoé National Park. Many thanks to Baptiste Bataille, Anthony Caere from Virunga National Park and Derek Macpherson for their invaluable technical support.

© Xavier Vincke

Note that the applications go beyond counting animals. This technology also makes it possible to automatically identify various pressures, such as poaching, gold mining, cattle grazing, deforestation... But also to produce a detailed map of the Park, in three dimensions, with a spatial resolution of the order of 5 cm. The camera mounting system will be improved in the coming months, in particular through the use of 3D printers.

The beginning of this new phase creates great opportunities and significantly improves OIPR's ability to monitor the park, ensuring the conservation of its natural resources and wildlife.

The aerial surveillance effectiveness can be furtherly enhanced thanks to WisePark, the smart system for remote monitoring and park management developed by gisAction and supported by the Esri Conservation Program.

This valuable information will then be made available to the park authorities, enabling them to manage the area more safely and effectively.

© Xavier Vincke