News Animals Drone Pilot Rescues Animals After Natural Disasters Doug Thron goes to devastated areas to save pets and wildlife. By Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo DiLonardo LinkedIn Twitter Senior Writer University of Cincinnati Mary Jo DiLonardo has worked in print, online, and broadcast journalism for 25 years and covers nature, health, science, and animals. Learn about our editorial process Updated June 10, 2021 02:50PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Doug Thron with Duke, a dog he rescued after California wildfires. "Doug to the Rescue" Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive For nearly three decades, seaplane and drone pilot Doug Thron has been a professional photographer and cinematographer, primarily for nature shows and magazines. A few years ago he was using his drone to film the devastation left behind after wildfires in California when he teamed up with rescuers to help find lost pets and reunite them with their owners. A long-time animal lover and environmentalist, Thron realized he could combine those passions, using his aerial skills. He now travels wherever there is need, using his drone to help communities dealing with the destruction after natural disasters. Thron is featured in a six-part documentary series “Doug to the Rescue” streaming on CuriosityStream beginning June 10. He talked to Treehugger about his first animal rescues, his drones, and some of the challenges he’s faced. Treehugger: Which came first: the animal rescue work or the drone? Dough Thron: I was using drones for filming for TV shows, commercials, and real estate clients before doing the animal rescue work. Were you involved in animal rescue and realized that your drone work could come in handy? Definitely. I was doing animal rescue work after the wildfires in Paradise, California. I was working with an expert cat rescuer named Shannon Jay, and I saw him using an infrared scope at night to help find the cats. We talked about how incredible it would be to put one on a drone and when the opportunity came up about 10 months later in the Bahamas after the category 5 Hurricane Dorian, that’s what I did and it worked incredibly. I had raised orphaned baby animals as a kid and worked with animals such as possums, raccoons, squirrels, beavers, and even mountain lions. I’ve been using drones since 2013 for cinematography, so I’ve used them for quite a while before I got involved in the actual rescuing of animals with drones. Duke in the Bahamas. Doug Thron / "Doug to the Rescue" What was your first big rescue using a drone? My first big rescue using a drone was in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. I was there helping to deliver aid and film the destruction when I spotted a dog roaming around the mountains of debris. He obviously hadn’t had any water or much food for days. He was really apprehensive at first, but warmed up over the course of the day, as I just sat with him. Dog food and water helped! The next day, some animal rescuers came with me to get him. He’s such an incredible dog, and meant so much to me, so I adopted him and named him Duke after a sign I’d seen where I found him. Where are some of the places you've gone to help stranded animals? The Bahamas, Australia, Oregon, California, and Louisiana. Thron with a rescued koala. "Doug to the Rescue" What were some of the most challenging circumstances? In Australia, it was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them. On almost all these rescues, Australia and everywhere else, it’s countless long hours of work—generally about 20 hours a day—which can certainly wear you down day after day. What is it like when you spot an animal in an area of devastation where there is no other sign of life? It’s great to be able to rescue these animals so much more efficiently and faster and, in many cases, find animals that never would have been found. It’s different everywhere I go—finding animals when there aren’t any others alive nearby is always really hard. But in places like Louisiana, where I was searching in so many neighborhoods, it gives you a feeling of hope when you find a cat or dog, knowing it was someone's pet. In other places, like Australia, I’d be covering dozens of miles a night, sometimes and only finding an occasional animal. It’s really sad because you realize how many thousands of animals didn’t make it. It’s also really hard to see how fires and other natural disasters as a result of climate change are taking out the last patches of unentered habitat and endangered animals. A dog rescued in Louisiana. "Doug to the Rescue" How heart-wrenching can it be? It can be really heart-wrenching to find animals that are severely wounded, but it’s wonderful to be able to save them. How euphoric is it when you make a great save? It’s awesome to be able to save people's cats and dogs because frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal's sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death. Thron with his drone. "Doug to the Rescue" What is your drone like? The Matrice 210 V2 are the drones I use with an infrared camera, spotlight, and 180x zoom lens. The combination of using those three attachments for animal rescue has never been done before. How much time do you spend doing animal rescue work? What else do you do? The rescue work is pretty continuous for 9 to 10 months during the fire and hurricane seasons. After that, there are occasional lost pets to be found. What else do you want to accomplish? I hope to make using infrared drones for animal rescue as popular as helicopters are for rescuing people after a natural disaster. So many more animals can be saved when you can find them so much faster and find ones that never would have been found on foot because there is just too much area to cover.