Bears Don’t Like Drones and Don’t Know How to Show It

A bear darting towards us would give most of us a heart attack. But do you know what could give bears a coronary? Drones.

Drones and wildlife: what’s the connection?

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are beginning to make their way into our lives, with companies like Amazon and Google offering drone delivery options for online shoppers. Drones have also tremendously boosted research efforts, particularly in wildlife preservation. Drones can fly across inaccessible and tricky terrains, and collect information on the whereabouts and behaviors of animal populations that don’t respond well to human presence. Despite regulatory roadblocks, they are being increasingly used to monitor biodiversity threats, capture aerial images, and fend off poachers. Studies examining how wildlife creatures react to drones have shown no obvious change in behavior so far.

Drones stress out bears

A study headed by the scientists in the University of Minnesota, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology attempted to measure the not-so-obvious effects of UAVs on animals. The results published in Current Biology throw light on the physiological reactions shown by bears in the presence of drones. They used four bears found in northwestern Minnesota for this study – two mothers with cubs, one hibernating female, and one young male. The bears were fitted with GPS collars to monitor their movements and cardiac biologgers that measure heart rates. The combined usage of GPS as well as biologger technology provided insights into stress-responses in animals that not apparent from behavior alone. When they flew 18 UAVs over the bears, with each bear facing a different number of flights, all of them showed a spike in their heart rates, rising as much as 123 beats per minute when compared to pre-flight baselines. Despite such stressful heart conditions, the bears in the study did not attempt to run away. This underlines the importance of physiological monitoring of animals to study how they react to objects flying close to them.

What does this spell for the future of drones in animal habitats?

The bears observed in this study were inhabitants of an area densely populated by humans, and were probably accustomed to higher levels of noise. This effect could be more pronounced in animals unfamiliar with the hustle and bustle of human existence. Though this study was preliminary, with the advent of drone usage, it opens up a wide area of research into the cumulative effects of flying objects on animal well-being.

Bears are afraid of drones, just like how we are afraid of this artificially intelligent robot: