Look online for videos shot by drones and you’ll come across some spectacular footage of animal vs drone. Watch as geese, eagles, and in one case even a kangaroo, take on these unmanned flying machines, and as in most animal drone encounters posted online you’ll see the animal emerge victorious. Realising that this may not always be the case, two Australian researchers have developed a code of conduct for animal-drone interactions.
A lot like this video:
The researchers are from the University of Adelaide’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility (URAF) where drones are frequently used for monitoring wildlife. Concerned by the rapid increase in the commercial drone industry and its potential effect on wildlife, Lian Pin Koh, the director of URAF and researcher Jared Hodgson published their suggested code of conduct in the journal Current Biology.
Their suggested code includes several steps, and many can be thought of as common sense. Pin Koh and Hodgson recommend that when fling near animals that flights should cause minimal disruption. They also think that researchers, especially in the case of ecological studies, should put more thought into whether the data can be collected via other methods such as manned aircraft or satellite images. They also suggest that more research be put into drone choice, selecting the appropriate drone for the job to minimise intrusion and propose camouflaging drones to mimic non-threatening wildlife.
The code is only a first step with the authors hoping to develop specific species protocols for researchers who use drones as they have a high potential for helping studies as a low impact research tool.
To date there have not been many studies to examine the effect of drones on wildlife and those that have mainly concentrate on how wildlife reacts when a drone comes near, but few are able to monitor vital physiological elements like stress and heart rate.
The code of conduct is merely a suggestion and at this point has only been introduced to the world of academia, though the authors hope it will catch on in the private sector. And while Australia’s own Civil Aviation Authority has yet to issue any guidance on the topic of animal-drone interactions there has been some headway made in other areas. Australia’s New South Wales will not permit drone flying in national parks without a permit, and in the United States the National Park Service has tried to enact the same law, although admittedly has meet with some difficulty so far.
In the past few years drone use has drastically increased as technology and controls improve and prices come down. It’s meant that a large number of hobbyists have access to these fun machines and they’re taking flight, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Hobbyists are advised to keep their drones from areas known to have large wildlife populations, keep an eye out for flocks of birds, and plan your drone’s route accordingly.
The authors stated that most animal-drone interactions caused by hobbyists are unintentional but that increasing awareness will help people to understand the consequences that occur for these animals as a result of actions with the drone.