Drone technology has been found to be highly informative tool for data collection in ecology, wildlife biology, and conservation while accessing wildlife in its natural environs; however several studies in the past have documented changes in animal behaviour near close-proximity drone flights.
Now, a news release from the Oxford University Press gives information about a latest study titled, ‘Bears habituate to the repeated exposure of a novel stimulus, unmanned aircraft systems‘, and published in the journal Conservation Physiology which has demonstrated that over time, bears get used to drones. Earlier investigative research indicated that animals exhibited stress response near drone flights. Using heart monitors to gauge stress, however, researchers have found that bears habituated to drones over a 3 to 4-week period and remained habituated.
The research also showed that bears do not often display behavioural signs of fear like fleeing in some cases; but in extreme cases- their heart rates nearly quadrupled (162 beats per minute) compared to pre-flight baseline data (41 beats per minute).
The research involved observing the acclimatization of American black bears to repeated drone exposure, and then comparing the data with the bears’ tolerance levels during persistent and extended period without drone flights. Using implanted cardiac biologgers, the team measured the heart rate of five captive bears before and after drone flights. Then researchers halted drone flights for 118 days before resumption. Black bears showed clear signs of increased tolerance to drones, both short-term and long-term. Additionally, their tolerance to the flights was maintained after a hiatus of more than three months.
The researchers however do emphasize that the rate of habituation is likely to vary from one species to another. Bears in general have shown adjustment to frequent contact with people, showing less fear after repeated exposure accordingly; bears may be predisposed to becoming tolerant of novel disturbances. Other animals are much less likely to get used to such disturbances.
“It’s important to note that the individual bears in this study did show a stress response to the initial drone flights, said the paper’s lead author, Mark Ditmer adding, ”Close-proximity drone flights near wildlife should be avoided without a valid purpose. However, our findings do show that drone use in conservation, for things such as anti-poaching patrols, can provide benefits without long-term high- stress consequences.”
If findings from such investigative trials suggest that certain species do indeed get used to drones without jeopardizing the species healthy and natural existence, then drone technology use could become a helpful tool for conservation of wildlife while maintaining minimal human interference in natural environs of the species being observed.