MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Wedge-tailed eagles knocking down Gold Fields drones

Published by MAC on 2016-11-23
Source:, Washington Post, ABC

Mining giant surveying tool are reportedly being destroyed

Western Australian Goldfields surveying tools are reportedly being destroyed by eagles, costing the South African company more than $100,000.

Ten UAVs have been lost since the world's seventh-biggest gold producer began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda.


Wedge-tailed eagles do battle with mining giant's drones, knocking nine out of sky

Jarrod Lucas


23 November, 2016

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have become unlikely prey for wedge-tailed eagles in Western Australia's Goldfields, costing a mining giant more than $100,000 to replace its newest surveying tool.

Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa's Gold Fields, the world's seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda.

One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs.

The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h.

Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls "the natural enemy of the UAV".

Mr Steven told 140 delegates at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy's Open Pit Operators' Conference in Kalgoorlie-Boulder yesterday the introduction of UAVs was the biggest step forward for surveying since global positioning systems (GPS).

The UAVs capture large-scale photographs, down to 2cm resolution, and computer-generated, high-detail contouring of mined areas that are incorporated into future plans.

Mr Steven, who considers drones a "derogatory" term for the UAVs because pilots must pass a five-day course to fly them, showed delegates at the conference a recent photograph of an eagle attacking a UAV mid-air.

"People couldn't believe I was able to get such a good photo of an eagle airborne, but I didn't … another eagle took that photo," he said.

"I was flying the tailings dam out at St Ives and I was getting attacked by two eagles simultaneously.

"It turned the UX5 sideways and took a photo of the other eagle as it was coming in to attack.

"I think that's the first recorded eagle selfie in history."

Looks like an eagle but cannot fight like one

The UAVs cost about $10,000 per body and another $10,000 per camera.

Mr Steven, who also holds a private pilot's licence, said his team had attempted to engineer a solution to ward off eagle attacks by camouflaging the UAVs.

The original UX5 design was black, but St Ives has tried a rainbow-coloured pattern and even an eagle with wings, although Mr Steven said it "looked like an eagle but couldn't fight back like an eagle".

"That [wedge-tailed eagle] is my single biggest problem in the environment where I work for the UX5 … I am on my 12th [UAV]," he said.

"I am operating two at the moment. The one I am flying at the minute has just done its 78th flight.

"Nine out of the other 10 have been destroyed courtesy of this guy [eagle] — he's its natural enemy. They're big birds … the females are bigger and nastier."

Giant eagles terrorize Australian gold mine, take ‘selfie’ with drone camera

Ben Guarino

November 22, 2016

A Trimble UX5 unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, costs about $9,500. It can hit speeds of nearly 60 mph and, from a maximum altitude of 400 feet, snap photographs with 2-centimeter resolution. Pilots who fly the machines prefer the term “UAV” to drone — a typical quadcopter or other consumer drone does not require a five-day operator’s course, after all. To operators like Rick Steven, a surveyor at the St Ives Gold Mine in Kambalda, Western Australia, the UAV technology has become an integral part of the mapping and gold production process.

What the Trimble UX5 cannot do, even when camouflaged with a birdlike paint job, is avoid the devastating talons of Australia’s giant eagles.

“If we see an eagle — protocol is we ditch the mission and land immediately,” Steven told The Washington Post by email. The surveyors are not always so lucky. The wedge-tailed eagle, Australia’s largest bird of prey, can soar up to a mile in the sky. When they descend from such great heights, it is not always possible to react.

The eagles above Kambalda have cost mining company Gold Fields nine of the $9,500 machines, as Steven recently told a conference of open pit miners in Kalgoorlie, Australia.

In one instance, two eagles swooped in on a UAV simultaneously. The first eagle struck the machine from the side. As it spun, the camera took a photo of the second bird. Steven described the image as the “first recorded eagle selfie in history,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

It may seem as though birds, whose flying prowess was undisputed for the past 150 million years, would not take kindly to the agile electronic usurpers. That is true for hawks, eagles, falcons and other birds of prey.

“From all indications it’s about defending territory,” Steven said to The Post, “but I have seen them on the ground on top of a downed UAV tearing at it as though they are trying to get food.”

Eagles destroy nine WA mining drones and cost company more than $100,000

November 19, 2016

Western Australian Goldfields surveying tools are reportedly being destroyed by eagles, costing the South African company more than $100,000.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, are used to survey mines in St Ives and cost about $20,000 each, the ABC reports.

Rick Steven, a mine surveyor in the region, said nine of his Trimble UX5 drones had been lost to wedge-tail eagles, which he has labelled “the natural enemy of the UAV”.

After the attacks on his equipment began, Mr Steven attempted to camouflage the drones as baby eagles, but the technique only temporarily diverted the eagles.

Mr Steven said he had successfully made 50 flights with the disguised drones before the birds figured out they were not baby eagles.

"Eagles are extremely territorial birds," Mr Steven told Mashable.

"Seeing a UAV in the sky, obviously they consider it a threat and something that's encroaching on their territory."

Mr Steven said he has since figured out how to combat the territorial eagles without camouflaging his UAVs – by flying them at a time the birds are not in the sky.

"I know the eagle loves to fly on thermals. Thermals activate during the hottest part of the day — which is why we're flying first thing in the morning now," he explained.

Mr Steven said flying in the early hours of the day has been a success so far.

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