Recreational drones are becoming more popular, and it’s not just people who are taking notice. Wild animals are starting to have more frequent encounters with drones that are being flown for fun.
Hawks, ospreys, magpies, seagulls and geese have all been recorded attacking drones, possibly mistaking them for prey. But it isn’t just birds that are getting involved in the action. Other recordings show drones being chased by cheetahs, being punched by kangaroos and being smacked by monkeys.
Recreational drones are quickly becoming more affordable, making them more accessible to everyday enthusiasts. They are also becoming smaller and lighter, making them more vulnerable to attacks from animals. The safety guidelines of drones usually do not mention animals. It is expected that more than one million drones will be sold in the United States this holiday season.
However, sometimes it is the animal that is scared by the drone. Seals have been frightened by the flying devices, and sheep have been known to be disturbed. In June of 2014, the National Park Service banned the usage of drones by visitors.
Some animal scientists believe that drones are a good way to study animals. The devices can be safe, cheap and less disruptive to the animals. Indeed, drones have been used to study penguins, cranes and whales to great success. In Kenya, the country’s wildlife service says that using drones instead of traditional animal observation methods can reduce the poaching of elephants and rhinoceros.
Scientists are still studying how drones affect the behavior of animals. In one case, scientists from the National Center for Scientific Research in France repeatedly flew drones around birds to see how they would interact when they encountered a drone. In most cases, the birds left the drones alone. But when the drones flew in a more aggressive manner, the birds often mistook them for predators.
The scientists concluded that it really depends on the animal as to what reaction will be given. A major guideline of animal observers is to not disrupt the behavior of the animals. As such, drone users are advised to be extremely courteous and non-invasive when using drones to observe animals in nature.
There is also concern about drones causing stress to the animals. Scientists from the University of Minnesota flew drones around bears. While the bears usually appeared to keep going with their usual activities, the scientists did find that the heart rates of the bears increased when drones were present.
Potentially worse is the possibility of the propellers of a drone doing serious damage to animals or their homes. While they can be great research tools for both scientists and nature enthusiasts, a lot is still unknown about their potential for interacting with animals.
Therefore, people should exercise caution when operating drones in nature.