Drone cameras threaten Nilgiris wildlife

Aerial threats: The Shaheen Falcon is known to be very aggressive around unmanned drones.

Aerial threats: The Shaheen Falcon is known to be very aggressive around unmanned drones.  

Birds may get injured when they attack remote devices of amateur photographers.

With more and more amateur photographers descending on the Nilgiris and the rest of the Western Ghats to capture footage of stunning vistas and exotic wildlife, conservationists are concerned that enthusiasts using drone cameras may be posing a significant threat to the endangered species of birds, especially raptors, many of which are known to attack the equipment and sustain injuries in the process.

Wildlife enthusiasts like M. Santhanaraman, a lawyer who has photographed breeding pairs of Shaheen Falcons in Gudalur, believe that the drones pose a huge threat to birds of prey.

Threat of extinction

“It is a matter of fact that raptors, when threatened, are known to even abandon nesting sites, and unfortunately, many species of raptors threatened with extinction nest in rocky outcrops, where amateur photographers most wish to use drones to photograph or shoot footage,” said Mr. Santhanaraman.

“Not just raptors, there have been even videos of elephants being absolutely petrified by drone cameras,” he added, stating that the use of drone cameras or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles mounted with filming equipment in forest areas, without the permission of the Chief Wildlife Warden is a criminal offence. “The forest departments needs to work with the district administration, the police and also private resorts, to stipulate that the use of such cameras especially in ecologically sensitive areas like the Nilgiris is prohibited,” said Mr. Santhanaraman.

In April this year, a river tern, was killed after being hit by a drone in Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Chikmagalur, Karnataka. In the Nilgiris, a group of tourists were arrested in Mudumalai last year for flying a drone close to the nesting sites of the endangered White rumped vulture.

S Bharathidasan, secretary of Arulagam, a conservation NGO working towards protecting vultures and other species of raptors, said that falcons are known to attack drones on sight. “When birds attack these cameras, the rotor blades of the equipment can cause massive life-threatening injuries to them, and even stop them from effectively hunting for food, resulting in a slow, agonizing death,” he said.

Conservationists believe that while a blanket ban on drones is impossible to enforce, the forest department should identify areas where vultures and other raptor species are known to nest, and set up effective policing to prevent unauthorized use of the cameras.

While most nesting sites are already in heavily protected areas like the Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserves, a few sites are located in less secure forest areas in the Nilgiris Forest Division, conservationists said. “In these areas, it is physically impossible for forest staff to keep a constant vigil on people illegally entering the forests with such equipment,” said another activist.

“When it comes down to it, most photographers know that the use of drones disturbs wildlife and raptors and should be used discerningly. While 90 percent of them will act ethically, there will always be a few who will value their photographs over the well-being of wildlife, and these are the people who need to be stopped,” said a Nilgiris-based wildlife photographer, who says that stricter fines, and warning boards cautioning photographers against the use of drones could be one way of preventing their use.

Forest department officials said there is a ban on using drones in reserve forests, unless the written permission is obtained from the Chief Wildlife Warden.

Last year, officials in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve fined tourists for using drone cameras within the reserve.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 8:59:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/drone-cameras-threaten-nilgiris-wildlife/article29588225.ece

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