Advances in agricultural technology have made cutting hay easier than ever, but it's also had the tragic effect of turning cropland into killing fields. Each year in Germany alone, an estimated 100,000 baby deer are inadvertently killed by large harvesting equipment as they lay hiding in the tall grass -- an unimaginable toll on wildlife that has been accepted for far too long.
Thankfully, officials are looking to technology once again -- not to make the work more efficient, but rather to make it safer for fawns.
As part of a pilot program aimed spotting fawns hidden in hay fields before the grass is harvested, Germany's agriculture ministry is backing a $3.5 million project exploring the use of drones to detect animals' color and body heat before spring mowings.
Project spokesman Rolf Stockum says the idea is about making modern farming work peacefully with the animals' basic instincts.
"Evolution has created a very effective way to protect the fawns, which do not yet have a sense of smell -- they instinctively stay exactly where they are placed," says Stockum, to the AFP.
"Unfortunately, there are many years in which the time when meadows are cut in spring coincides with the time when deer drop their offspring... and then many animals lose their lives."
Farmers usually have had to try to find fawns hidden in their fields from the ground to avoid shredding them with the harvesting equipment, though many still went overlooked. The hope is that the aerial drones will detect the animals with much more accuracy, after which they can be fitted with radio-beacons so that equipment operators would know which areas to avoid.
So far, the program has shown promise in saving fawns' lives -- meaning it may soon be employed more widely to help bring about an end to the accidental killing.