When it comes to wildlife, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can elicit a variety of responses, from chimpanzees knocking drones out of the sky to bears fleeing them with increased heart rates. On the flip side, drones are also being employed to prevent poaching, and further, are providing biologists with unprecedented access to specimens.
Because of these various uses, two University of Adelaide researchers have come up with a list of best practices for using drones to monitor wildlife.
“In our experience, the vast majority of UAV users, both biologists and hobbyists, do not want to disturb wildlife and will often seek advice from experts,” said Jarrod Hodgson, of the School of Biological Sciences, in a statement. “However, in some cases, users may be unaware that their UAV operations could be causing considerable and unnecessary disturbance. By promoting an awareness of the potential for UAVs to impact wildlife, we hope that users will be more conscious of the potential impacts and utilize the code to ensure their UAV operations are responsible.”
The recommendations include consulting with experts on how to proceed with UAV operations if evidence is lacking, seeking approval for UAV actions and providing evidence regarding how use of the technology is beneficial, following civil aviation rules, launching and recovering UAVs from a reasonable distance from wildlife targeted for study, recording any behavioral and physiological responses to the UAV, and reporting flight details in subsequent publications, among other recommendations. A full list of the recommendations can be found in a study published in Cell Biology.
“Even though an animal might not appear to be disturbed, it could be quite stressed—for example, a bird may choose to remain near a UAV even when stressed because it is incubating an egg or protecting its hatchling,” said Hodgson. “It is likely that animal responses vary depending on a variety of factors, including the species, environmental and historical context, and the type of UAV and its method of operation.”
Hodgson and colleague Lian Pin Koh hope to eventually develop species-specific guidelines for drone usage in wildlife settings.