Bears Freaked Out by UFOs that Wildlife Biologists Use

First Posted: Aug 14, 2015 07:47 AM EDT

Drones can be a huge boon to wildlife biologists. Instead of tromping through rough terrain, they can simply send a drone to observe wild animals. Now, though, researchers have found that these robots may actually stress out the wildlife they're observing.

Drones can save money, time, and improve accuracy during surveys. They can travel where humans can't, and quickly go in and out of hard-to-reach areas.

"It's a game changer in applications such as orangutan surveys," said Lian Pin Koh, a conservation ecologist at the University of Adelaide, in an interview with the International Business Times. "Instead of having to send our research assistants to walk the forest for a week counting nests, we can now survey the same area using drones in a matter of hours."

With that said, Mark Ditmer, a wildlife ecologists at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, wanted to see whether or not the drones stressed out the animals that they observed. In order to find out, the researchers had drones track black bears in Minnesota. These bears had previously been outfitted with both GPS locators and small implanted heart sensors for another study.

So what did the researchers find? By examining data from the heart monitors, Ditmer found that the bears' heart rate spiked in response to every single drone flight. The heart rate of one bear, which was a female bear with cubs nearby, increased by as much as 123 beats per minute.

The researchers don't believe that these findings should discourage the use of drones altogether, but they should help establish best practices on the use of drones to minimize their disturbance on animals.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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