On Tuesday, authorities in Florida found another use for drones: finding a kangaroo that escaped from a wildlife sanctuary. The Florida Highway Patrol is lending two drones to the effort to catch Storm, a 4-foot-tall, 45-pound kangaroo that went missing Monday from a facility in Jupiter Farms, about 90 miles north of Miami.
The search party so far has included a dozen officers from the FHP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, a K-9 unit from a local police department and, as of Tuesday afternoon, the pair of drones. One of the drones is equipped with a forward-looking infrared camera, allowing it to capture thermal images.
Storm has been spotted hopping across roads in Jupiter Farms a few times since the marsupial escaped from owner Eric Westergard’s sanctuary, though Florida authorities discourage individuals from approaching the animal. The Fish and Wildlife Commission includes kangaroos among “Class III” animals, a group that also includes parrots, foxes, skunks, snakes, geckos and finches. Class III species are defined as not posing significant threats to human life, but still requiring a permit to own.
Despite Storm’s escape, Westergard’s menagerie, which includes six other kangaroos, is in good standing with state officials, Rob Klepper a public information officer for the Fish and Wildlife Commission, told StateScoop. Officials found no violations during their most recent inspection of Westergard’s sanctuary in 2016.
But finding a kangaroo in in the wild — even in a non-indigenous environment like South Florida — is proving difficult. “It’s probably easier to find a needle in a haystack than a kangaroo in the Farms,” Westergard told the Palm Beach Post.
Hence, authorities use of drones in the search. Klepper said the search for Storm is “probably” the first time the Fish and Wildlife Commission has gotten an aerial assist from the Florida Highway Patrol.
“Our primary focus is on recovering the kangaroo,” Klepper said.