Israeli drone company helps save endangered vulture chick

Despite typically being associated with military operations and psurveillance, Xtend's drone technolgy proved the versitility of unmanned automative vehicles.

A griffon vulture lands in an area, used as a feeding station, where carrion is left by conservationists as part of a national project to protect and increase the population of the protected bird in Israel, in southern Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A griffon vulture lands in an area, used as a feeding station, where carrion is left by conservationists as part of a national project to protect and increase the population of the protected bird in Israel, in southern Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israeli drone industry proved its versatility by aiding in a crisis it isn't usually associated with: Saving endangered wildlife species.
After an endangered vulture chick was stranded on a cliffside, Israeli start-up Xtend came with specialized drone technology to airlift food for it to survive on until it grew old enough to fly on its own, Israel21c reported Sunday.
Despite once having greater numbers, fewer than 60 pairs of the rare griffon vultures remain alive in the wild. They face numerous threats, as many kill them seeing them as pests. Nearly half the population of vultures in the Golan Heights were killed after they ate a cow carcass that had been intentionally poisoned. As these birds are monogamous, breeding can be difficult, with every chick successfully born being an important step in promoting conservation of the species.
In February, a pair of vultures monitored by the Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel who were designated T49 (male) and K74 (female), successfully gave birth to a chick. But in June, K74 died after being electrocuted by a power line, and T49 couldn't care for his children alone, Israel21c reported.
The child, too young to fly, was left stranded on a cliffside without food.
A few ideas were floated around by conservationists on what to do, such as taking the chick into captivity. However, another idea was soon settled on: Drones. Essentially, a drone would bring carrion to the chick until it could fly by itself.
This proved to be difficult, however, as due to the nature of the cliffside, most drones would crash before arriving at their destination.
Xtend, however, offered a solution.
The company, which was already working alongside the IDF's Yahalom specialized combat engineering corp to remove explosives, answered the call, and prepared by using a mock-up of the nest on an IDF base.
What is especially notable about Xtend's drones is the technology behind it. While most commercial drones are limited to basic movements, which are not always accurate, and use remote controls, Xtend tries a different approach, using virtual reality goggles and using the pilot's finger as a laser pointer of sorts.
“You move your finger like a laser pointer and the drone moves,” Xtend co-founder Matteo Shapiro told ISRAEL21c in 2019. “If you point at the end of a tree, the drone knows you’re pointing to the edge of that tree.”
The drone, which was referred to as "Mama," worked, successfully delivering food. This continued every few days until after a couple of months, the baby vulture could hunt by itself.
The utilization of drones as a means of wildlife preservation shows how versatile drone technology really is, especially as it isn't necessarily something most associate with it. Typically, drones are associated with usage in military contexts and in photography and surveillance. Even Xtend didn't intend for the technology to be used in this way, having been founded to use VR technology to commercialize "drone racing."
The company did attempt to break into the security sector in 2019, when it proposed using its drone technology to counter fire kites and incendiary balloons flown into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel21c reported. Since then, it has worked extensively with the IDF.
However, the use of their revolutionary drone technology for wildlife preservation was something “we never thought about," Xtend CEO Aviv Shapiro told ITV.
"When you open a company, you build something for a certain market. You don’t think about all the possibilities you might find.”