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Could Flying Drones Around Wildlife Cause Them Stress?

drone
SkyCamUSA

Researchers fly drones over bears with special collars to monitor their reactions physically and internally.

Drones have quickly exploded in popularity over the last few years. They are now the center of controversy when it comes to when and where it is legal to use them, and how they can affect privacy.

One common ban many states are adopting with hunters scouting areas, as well with park patrons visiting any U.S. National Park is their use to watch wildlife. Is a drone really a potential threat to  the environment and the animals who inhabit it?

Researchers representing various groups decided to do a small test on the subject. They flew a drone over four free-roaming American black bears to monitor their reactions.

“It has long been established that low-altitude flights by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft can produce stress responses in wildlife,” said the researchers in their report to Current Biology. “We believe UAV flights introduce a new and unique stressor that has the potential to be more frequent and induce higher levels of stress.”

They chose bears that were outfitted with special GPS collars that had heart rate monitors built into them, as well as their locations for the test. They wanted to see if the type of environment they were in at the time, such as open fields or forest, also increased or decreased the threat of the drone on them.

drone
CurrentBiology

The drone buzzed over the bears a total of 17 times, and every case caused some kind of physiological response. The most common was rapidly increased heart rates, with the most intense topping at 123 bpm. This heart rate increase was even found to affect one bear who was in hibernation.

The most profound effect was had on a 10-year-old mother bear and her two cubs. Shortly after the drone passed them they began moving at the fastest rate their GPS had ever recorded. They did not stop moving at the increased rate until they had put more than a quarter mile between them and the area where they were buzzed over.

While this isn’t actually a definitive test on the effects of drones on wildlife, it does prove that it is something that needs to be further looked into. This also brings to light that although using your personal drone to get a cool shot of an animal may seem like a good idea, you could be doing the wildlife around you harm.

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Could Flying Drones Around Wildlife Cause Them Stress?