Drones and Wildlife

Remote-drone Public Domain

Photo: Public Domain

Drones and Wildlife

By Kelly Dean

First, let me say that I like drone photography. It has given us a perspective we haven’t been able to enjoy very often.

Yet here’s something to think about: Is the use of drone technology to get closer to endangered wildlife actually wildlife harassment? Many humans complain about how drone technology might be crossing some human privacy boundaries. Are we crossing the line with wildlife as well? If we don’t like drones buzzing our apartment balconies and peering into our living rooms, wouldn’t birds and other animals perceive similar stress in their own way?


I mention this after watching a short subject movie about how Siberian tigers reacted to seeing a drone for the very first time. The segment’s theme centered on how interesting it was watching the tigers’ reaction and their efforts to literally attack the drone. Understand this, the piece was not from the perspective that the drone was harassing the animal but that the reaction was somehow “cute”: animal meets technology and shows who’s tougher … oh … aren’t they pretty, by the way.

I have mixed feeling about using technology and how it affects wildlife conservation. Certainly, technology helps us understand and study wildlife. The closer we can get, the better we can do this. But I think this should stop short of any activity that tells us the animal might be unduly threatened or alarmed. This includes using drones to buzz the nests of birds of prey and migrating flocks, simply to “get a shot.”

This also includes underwater drones to chase sharks and dolphins as well. If the animal is running from the technology that would indicate they are alarmed. Unfortunately, those shooting the footage often say they are following, not chasing. I say, “maybe.”


I don’t mind getting close with long lenses to capture animals in their habitat as long as the animal feels comfortable. After all, animals often approach us. Furthermore, I don’t mind static cameras placed by biologists near nests to monitor them, especially threaten species. These are meant to be semi-permanent while monitoring health and well-being; and ultimately, the animal can choose to nest there — if it’s not bothersome. They can choose not to use the site if the camera indeed bothers them. Usually, these cameras are installed when the birds are not currently using the site, so the choice is theirs.

I don’t mind high-level distance shots from drones so long as they are not close enough to literally disrupt birds’ lives or amounts to physically chasing them. Drones can have zoom lenses and can look from a distance, so isn’t it better to stay at such a secure distance?

And I don’t mind biologist’s drones used to monitor a potentially sick animal.

Nevertheless, the inundation of personal drones has me a bit concerned. Is getting the shot that worth it?

Personal drones and the thin-skinned

Maybe I’m alone in this and being thin-skinned. After all, divers get close to schooling fish on the reefs, but I must confess, it never seems as if it is disrupting their normal behavior much. Small schooling fish spook for a reason: they’re food for bigger fish. It doesn’t take much to startle them. Divers generally can’t keep up with fish so chasing is not very likely.

Also, we do seek food from both the sea and air and there’s plenty of pursuing going on. But these are meant for the table and are generally not on an endangered list. If it’s a recreational catch and release fish, it is let go.

Certainly there’s a common sense gut-check line we should use when it comes to animals we need to observe — not pursue – whatever the reason might be.

If you have a point of view on the subject, feel free to comment below.

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