Drones may be great tools for wildlife photography, but what is their impact on wildlife itself? Perhaps we should ask the man who accidentally caused a stampede in Wyoming last week while using his drone to film a herd of elk.
The man launched his drone from the highway nearby and flew it over a group of 1,500 elk, which stampeded a half-mile in the snow. Stress isn’t the only consequence of a stampede. In the winter, it’s essential for elk to preserve their energy and fat stores to make it through the lean season. “It’s a crucial time of year for those animals and they don’t need to be burning up additional energy stores unnecessarily,” Doug Brimeyer, the deputy wildlife division chief at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Global News.
The man responsible for the stampede is reportedly apologetic. He was given a ticket for $280 for animal harassment, a federal crime that covers everything from collecting bulls’ antlers when they fall off to, as we now know, frightening wildlife with drones.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had to look at the impact of drones on wildlife. A study conducted in Minnesota showed that when drones are flown near black bears, the bears’ heart rates rise significantly. The effect was even seen in a bear that was in its den for hibernation. Birds also sometimes fly into drones, and sheep have been known to scatter when drones fly overhead.
However, some see drones as useful tools for things like monitoring species populations and catching poachers. One thing is sure: when it comes to using new technologies, we need to be careful of the consequences, not just for our own sakes, but for those we share the planet with.