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Drones Mean We Need Wildlife Preserves in the Sky, Say Scientists

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National parks have existed for nearly a century to give animals a rare refuge from human intervention. But with more and more drones flying every day, some experts are asking if we need to also set aside space in the skies for airborne wildlife.

Men have been flying planes for over 100 years, but with more citizens and businesses adopting unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, as they’re better known, the skies are about to get a lot more crowded. Drones are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible to citizens, and businesses like Amazon are testing drones for commercial use. According to some experts, there could be a million drones flights over the U.S. within the decade.

That’s great news for aviation enthusiasts and techno-savvy corporations – not so much for birds and other wildlife who have to share the skies with a swarm of flying drones. According to a recent article in “Science,” while animals living on the ground and in water have several reserves, flying wildlife have no comparable protection. In order to prevent collisions and keep wildlife safe, the paper’s authors are recommending the government set up no-fly zones, save for those with natural wings.

The idea of a sky preserve is a new one, but animals have had confrontations with UAVs from almost the first time they were launched. For every positive interaction, like drones being used to observe orcas from a respectable distance or to keep a watchful eye on endangered rhinos, there is also footage of a bird swatting down the pesky flying robot invading its airspace.

Those latter incidents make for amusing videos, but conservationists are taking the intrusion of drones into the natural world serious. Several national parks, such as Yosemite, have already taken action, banning the use of drones from their land. But conservationists say birds and bats have a greater range than terrestrial animals, and simply including the sky above already protected lands isn’t enough.

“The problem is that those areas are mainly designed because of the species that are on the ground,” says Sergio Lambertucci, who co-authored the piece. “Aerial reserves should focus on the needs of species in the airspace.”

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To minimize our impact on flying wildlife, humans will have to know more about how they travel, says Lambertucci. Birds and bats have some migration paths recorded, but scientists overall know very little about how they move about in their daily lives. With additional research, the authors of the study believe humans can track the flight paths of animals and give them a wide berth by choosing ideal locations for airports, wind farms, and other obstacles.

Governments can also establish permanent or temporary reserves to ensure a vulnerable species is safe from human activity. Technology like UV lights that warn birds about windows, and wind turbines that slow down upon detecting a colony of bats, can also help save flying animals.

Like the national parks and marine reserves built in the last 100 years, staking out a space in the sky for animals is sure to ruffle the feathers of more than a few people. But the paper’s authors believe that given the same priority as the designated wild areas that became “America’s Best Idea,” the sky could soon be a much friendlier place for birds, bats, and drones alike.

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Drones Mean We Need Wildlife Preserves in the Sky, Say Scientists