Riddle solved: Do bears crap in the woods? No – they're stressing out over drones instead

Hovering bots drive grizzlies to distraction


Vid Bears, those savage and fearless predators of the wild, are driven to distraction by hovering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs aka drones).

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been studying local black bears using iridium satellite GPS collars fitted with heart-rate monitors, and a drone to keep track of them from about 20 metres away.

As a result, the scientists found that while bears will stand their ground to the lingering drone, it stresses them right out – causing their heartbeat-rate to soar.

This discovery is important because bio-boffins want to use drones to study wildlife, and are worried how the flying quad-copter gizmos will affect different creatures.

"Some of the spikes in the heart rate of the bears were far beyond what we expected," said Mark Ditmer, a post-doctoral researcher in the university's department of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology.

"We had one bear increase her heart rate by approximately 400 percent – from 41 beats per minute to 162 beats per minute."

In 18 drone flights following four bears, all members of the ursine study group had rapidly elevated heartbeats when the UAVs swooped in. Not all the bears were cowed – running away in only two cases – but it's clear the drones were giving them some serious stress.

"Without the use of the bio-logger, we would have concluded that bears only occasionally respond to UAVs," Ditmer said.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, showed that only one bear was seriously freaked out by the buzzing UAV, running 6.8 miles in the ensuing 28 hours into a territory it had never been seen in before.

Luckily for the bears, the heart rates dropped back to normal levels fairly quickly. This recovery was much faster for bears used to being in human-altered landscapes, like farmland.

"UAVs hold tremendous potential for scientific research and as tools for conservation," Ditmer explained. "However, until we know which species are tolerant of UAVs, at what distance animals react to the presence of UAVs, and whether or not individuals can habituate to their presence, we need to exercise caution when using them around wildlife."

Not all animals decide to run away from drones. Last week an Australian wedge-tailed eagle took great offence to a drone invading its airspace and the Aquila audax attacked instantly.

Youtube Video

"Eagle was fine – she was massive, and used talons to 'punch' the drone out of the sky," reported the photographer from Melbourne Aerial Video. "Hung around overhead so I got a really good look. Eagle's health was my main concern."

The drone wasn't a total write-off, but did need some repair work. The Australians have now amended their flight plans to avoid large raptors. ®

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