Preliminary Proof: Drones An Inexpensive, Safer Alternative For Herding Feral Horses

Feral horses that roam over extensive areas of land can be difficult to corral when necessary for management purposes, like for contraceptive treatment. Pushing the animals into a corral with a helicopter is a common way to contain them, but this method is stressful and potentially harmful to the horses; it’s also expensive.

Drs. Sue McDonnell and Catherine Torcivia of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine New Bolton Center investigated if free-roaming horses would follow a drone into a corral. They based their hypothesis on the concept that a horse’s natural instinct is to become alert to novel objects and intruders, and to respond as a herd to level of arousal elicited.

To test their theory, the duo used a consumer-grade drone and the university’s herd of 123 semi-feral ponies. They discovered that the drone was able to lead the horses into corrals on the first attempt and again on seven of nine additional attempts over the next month.

The drone led the horses to the same and different destinations. The horses tended to follow at a fast walk, with some slow trotting intervals interspersed. In each case, a stallion or multiple stallions first alerted the herd to the drone. The males then vocalized their concern and initiated the herd’s following of the drone’s retreat.

The scientists found that the drone was most effective when flying between 6 and 20 feet above the ground and leading the herd at a distance of about 30 feet. Next, the duo will test the drone on a herd of feral horses in a larger enclosure. If successful, they will conclude that drone use may provide a lower-cost, lower-stress, repeatable option for capturing feral horses, and improve both human and equine safety.

Read the full project report here.

Read more at Equine Science Update.

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