Category Archives: Wildlife Conservation

Do Drones Create Undue Stress in the Animals They Track?

Drone Vs. Wild

Unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVS, better known as drones) have complex interactions with the animals they monitor. Though scientists use drones to protect animals from poachers and obtain data on threatened species, evidence suggests these flying devices take an unseen toll on the creatures they track. YouTube even boasts a multitude of videos that show chimps, eagles, lions, and rams viciously attacking UAVs. So what’s going on when drone meets beast?

In the first study of its kind, scientists measured Minnesota black bears’ physiological responses to UAVs, which flew overhead 17 times. Data from sensors previously implanted in the bears revealed that in nearly all trials the animals’ heart rates significantly increased, though few behavioral reactions were noted. In the most extreme case, sensors recorded a 400% spike in one bear’s heart rate, from 39 to 162 beats per minute. University of Minnesota study leader Mark Ditmer found the results somewhat surprising, as bears in this region commonly hear loud noises from farm equipment and nearby traffic. “We thought they’d seen everything,” he said. Still, “Drones have different sounds and different capabilities. They can fly under the forest canopy, they can get very close, and even follow an individual.”


Photo: Andy Cush

David Wilkie, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s director of Conservation Support, hesitated to read too much into the findings without further research on drone-wildlife interactions, noting: “Heart rate is really an indication of arousal, a natural reaction. All animals get aroused when there’s an unfamiliar sound. It’s about vigilance, not necessarily stress.” He called for a study to measure the amount of stress hormone cortisol found in animals’ feces after UAV flight trials. Ditmer conceded that, though wild species may habituate to UAVs just as they have to highways and other manmade noises, the potentially chronic stress from constant close-up drones could have unknown consequences, even impacting bears’ success in reproducing and finding food, as well as weakening their immune systems. “If you have an endangered species or animals sensitive to human interference, we could push them beyond a threshold,” he said.

More Good Than Harm?

The key may be to test individual species’ reactions to UAVs before implementing long-term drone surveillance on them, ensuring the benefits (e.g. protecting them from poachers and obtaining insightful data) to that group always outweigh any stress inflicted. In science journal Current Biology, Australian researchers Jarrod Hodgson and Lian Pin Koh agree that “It is likely that animal responses vary depending on a variety of factors, including the species, environmental and historical context, and the type of UAV and its method of operation.” The duo outline some best practice guidelines they hope will both public and private sectors will implement to minimize stressful drone-animal interactions. For instance, Hodgson and Koh recommend that researchers choose drone models that are unobtrusive and even camouflaged, that they consider obtaining data via satellite images or manned aircraft before deploying drones, and that any negative animal responses should be shared in published studies. With these suggestions, they seek  to define drones as “a powerful, low-impact ecological survey tool” that can harvest key data on threatened populations within acting in ways that could threaten them further.


Photo: Mike Tuziw, Alamy

Clearly-defined legislation can serve to insulate wild animals from drone hobbyists, who may have no qualms about flying drones right up to wildlife for the sake of a good photo. Currently, Canadian law bans all drones within 150 meters of wild animals, while the US National Park Service prohibits drones from flying over protected land so that animal inhabitants will remain undisturbed. Wilkie noted that, after lawmakers and researchers lay out what constitutes appropriate drone behavior around wild animals, UAVS will  have “enormous potential that we’ve barely begun to tap,” and Hodgson and Koh too are optimistic. “In our experience, the vast majority of UAV users, both biologists and hobbyists, do not want to disturb wildlife and will often seek advice from experts,” Hodgson said. “By promoting an awareness of the potential for UAVs to impact wildlife, we hope that users will be more conscious of the potential impacts and utilize the code to ensure their UAV operations are responsible.” If their consequences on animal physiology are properly researched and shared amongst the scientific community, who knows the vitally important data that drones could secure on threatened wildlife species, even possibly helping them escape extinction?

-Shannon Cuthbert



WCFF Celebrates United Nations’ World Wildlife Day

WCFF was honored to participate for the second year in a row, in World Wildlife Day at the United Nations. On Friday, March 3, the WCFF screened several films for children as this year’s theme was “Listen to Young Voices.”

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), celebrates and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora on March 3 every year, World Wildlife Day.


Support the WCFF and help us continue our mission to Inform, Engage and Inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity. Join us for our seven year anniverssary this October in New York. For for more information contact:

“Escaping Extinction: Whale Sharks of the Maldives”

“Escaping Extinction: Whale Sharks of the Maldives” produced by Ashley Kelly, will premiere at the 2017 WCFF this October in New York, NY.


For over 60 million years, the mysterious Whale Shark has traversed the open sea, but very little is known about the world’s largest fish, this docile shark. Maldivian communities are proud to celebrate the Whale /Sharks and their marine biodiversity.


These days, Whale Sharks in the Maldives are safe from their number one predator, man…. but this has not always been the case.


Join us for the 7th year anniversary of the WCFF. October 19-29 in New York. Ten days of film screenings, panel discussions, receptions, field trips, conference and weekend retreat with film producers and scientists. WCFF is the only film festival on the planet whose mission is to inform, engage and inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity.

“Tale of a Lake”: An Ecosystem That’s More Than Meets the Eye

“Tale of a Lake”, produced by Marko Rohr, will have its World Premiere at the 2017 WCFF in New York, NY this October.


Rohr spoke of interest in the film: “This big interest shows how dear we Finns hold our nature and our lakes, and how important it is for us to know our people’s old beliefs and myths – our roots.”


Join us for the 7th year anniversary of the WCFF. October 19-29 in New York. Ten days of film screenings, panel discussions, receptions, field trips, conference and weekend retreat with film producers and scientists. WCFF is the only film festival on the planet whose mission is to inform, engage and inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity.



All Legal Ivory Trading from Largest Market to End This Year


Elephant populations everywhere are in grave danger, with species ranging in classification from vulnerable to critically endangered. The biggest causes of their fragility are habitat encroachment and poaching, which claimed 20,000 elephants in 2015, more than were born that year. Interestingly, these two causes may intertwined: in the minds of many locals whose livelihood depends on cultivating the land, habitat encroachment seems to necessitate killing or removing the elephants who live there, which in turn provides the perfect opportunity for poachers to swoop in and take the ivory that is in such high demand around the world. The UN Environment Programme found that over 63% of elephant rangelands will be occupied by humans by 2050.

Though an international ban on the once-legal ivory trade passed successfully throughout the ‘80s, political corruption and an illegal crime ring filled the void: in 2011, poaching caused 75% of elephant deaths worldwide. The ban had a fatal loophole, allowing ivory obtained prior to the ban to be sold, allowing poachers to claim the ivory was much older than it actually was.

Recently, China took great strides in cutting back on this dangerous and swiftly-accelerating industry, creating a plan to ban all trade by the end of 2017. “It’s a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction,” said Elly Pepper at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Conservationists are hopeful that other countries will take note and implement their own measures to counteract this deadly trade, allowing elephant populations to recover before they face critically low numbers.


Source: Caughill, Patrick. “The Biggest Ivory Market in the World will End All Legal Trading in 2017.” Futurism. 4 January 2017.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Instagram: @wcff_org
LinkedIn: Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

A Year in Review: Seven Stories that Highlight Hope for Conservation in 2016

Channel Islands fox rebound

The Channel Islands, eight islands off the coast of Southern California, house more of their adorable cat-size foxes (found nowhere else on earth) than ever in recent history. Thanks to conservation efforts including captive breeding of the foxes and relocation of predatory eagles, the population was recently removed from the endangered species list.


Photo source: Don DeBold

Chernobyl wildlife boom

Though Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded over 30 years ago, it has left behind a wasteland that most scientists thought would remain barren for years to come. However, in 2014 University of Georgia researchers left dozens of cameras in a heavily forested area of Chernobyl’s 1600-square-mile Exclusion Zone and saw that boars, wolves, foxes, raccoon dogs and many more species had reclaimed the land as their own. “It’s basically an incredibly large sanctuary” for animals, said one researcher of the follow-up study and accompanying photos which were published this year.

Robotic animals used to trick poachers

US authorities have come up with an unexpected but highly successful method to catch poachers: placing remote-controlled robotic animals like deer, bear, and moose in illegal hunting hubs and apprehending those foolhardy enough to shoot at them.

Peanut butter and drones provide a creative way to help adorable ferrets

Native to the US, beautiful black-footed ferrets currently hold the spot of North America’s most endangered species, due in large part to a plague killing prairie dogs, their main source of food. This year the federal government began testing a unique and tasty solution that could drive the ferrets’ population to healthy numbers: using drones to drop peanut butter-flavored pellets laced with plague vaccine on unsuspecting prairie dogs (about 60-90% of prairie dogs fell for the trick in recent tests), helping their populations recover enough to restore a balanced ecosystem to the American grasslands where the dogs and ferrets reside.

Full-time Hedgehog Officer for British Town

Officials in Ipswich, a village on the eastern coast of the UK, have recently noted declines in typically high hedgehog populations, so a local wildlife organization created the post of “Hedgehog Officer”, tasking the British woman who beat around 150 applicants with conserving this adorable local creature.

Jaguars settling in Arizona

Jaguars claimed much of the western US as their own before being completely hunted to death, but 2016 gave two positive signs that some of the creatures may have migrated from northern Mexico into the Arizona desert. A few months following the appearance of a gorgeous male, caught on camera and nicknamed El Jefe, a second male cat was photographed prowling around an Arizona army installation. Though Arizona wildlife officials dampened some excitement with the revelation that the closest breeding population is 130 miles south, the presence of these cats brings hope that more may eventually find their way to their old stomping grounds in the US.


Strong protections for some of world’s most endangered animals

The 2016 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concluded by creating tough new regulations against killing and trading endangered animals currently vulnerable to poachers, including African gray parrots, pangolins, and manta rays.

Post by Shannon Cuthbert

Source: Brulliard, Karin. “Nine great news stories about animals in 2016.” The Washington Post. 30 December 2016.


Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Instagram: @wcff_org
LinkedIn: Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

Both Caribou and Monarch Butterflies in Canada Threatened

DCF 1.0

On December 4, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (Cosewic), a group of scientific experts, classified both Canada’s caribou and its monarch butterfly populations as endangered. “Caribou are, sadly, very sensitive to human disturbances, and we are disturbing caribou more and more,” said committee member Justina Ray. “These stressors seem to be interacting in complicated ways with rapid warming in the North.”

The committee’s report notes that: “Many of the great northern caribou herds have now fallen to all-time lows, and there is cause for concern that they will not rebound in the same way they have before.” The group is responsible for classifying wildlife species at risk of extinction, and recommending potential protective actions to the Canadian government.

In order to determine whether caribou herds were at risk, Cosewic examined two different caribou populations: the tundra herd, deemed to be “threatened,” as well as the smaller population of Torngat Mountain caribou which dwell in northeastern Canada, and which were found to be at an even greater risk of extinction. This group was thus labelled “endangered,” and was noted to be facing “imminent” extinction. The report also highlights both habitat encroachment, due to increased forestry and mining, and Arctic global warming as grave threats to Canadian caribous’ continued existence. This October the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) rang alarm bells over Canadian caribou herds’ rapid decline over the past thirty years, and the committee’s findings sadly lend support to this conclusion.

In the same report, Cosewic classified monarch butterflies as endangered, noting that the “remarkably tiny wintering grounds where monarchs congregate continue to be chipped away by habitat loss.”

These migratory creatures regularly fly 4000km south from Canada to Mexico to remain warm as winter approaches. The committee strongly recommends that the butterfly’s habitat in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, all be proctected to ensure the insects have a place to rest each step of their migration.”Otherwise, monarch migration may disappear, and Canada may lose this iconic species,” it concluded.

Lending support to this call, this June, 200 American, Mexican, and Canadian scientists, artists, and academics appealed to the leaders of the three nations to ban illegal logging and mining in the Mexican reserve where monarchs outlast the winter. They also called for a ban on pesticides used to diminish milkweed, which serves as the only food source for monarch caterpillars. For its part, Cosewic called out the use of an herbicide used on genetically modified corn and soybean, which has been detrimental to monarchs as well.

Actions such as those recommended by the committee will go a long way in helping preserve two Canada-dwelling species that rely heavily on diminishing habitats.


Source: “Canada caribou and monarch butterfly ‘endangered’”. 6 December 2016.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Instagram: @wcff_org
LinkedIn: Wildlife Conservation Film Festival