An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is a Drone. There exists a long list of Drones used by the Indian Armed Forces which have been in use for decades.

Law enforcement agencies across India have increasingly been relying on the use of drones.

Nevertheless when in 2019 the Uttar Pradesh Police with the help of camera drones located, rescued, and saved 29 camels proposed to be illegally sacrificed, BWC was greatly impressed.

Drones are also being utilised for various reasons and in different situations involving animals whether domesticated animals or wildlife. In fact, they are being increasingly used by conservationists for wildlife data collection, capture aerial images and map and understand the topography. They are considered cost efficient, and error prone not to mention the risk they pose to people and wildlife on the ground.

In 2020 a Canadian company using drone technology planted tree seeds 10 times faster than manual plantation by humans in a forest area where trees had burnt down in a wildfire.

Drones have been listed as a major challenge to border security. Of the 250 drone flights across the western border, the BSF shot down 16 in 2022. Surveillance on India’s frontiers was stepped up since it was mostly used for smuggling in weapons and drugs.

The Army’s Remount and Veterinary Corp Centre in Meerut began training kites to take down drones in 2020. At a public demonstration during the India-US joint exercise Yudh Abhyas at Auli in Uttarakhand in November 2022 a black kite named Arjun as was seen swooping on a quadcopter drone in the sky.

Bharat Drone Mahotsav

The first drone festival was held in Delhi during May 2022 when the Prime Minister asked all ministries to send their officers to see how best drones help. He encouraged agriculturists to use them, suggested they be used for faster deliveries, and to reach areas which had poor road connectivity. Meanwhile, the number of government licences and permissions needed to operate drones had been lessened and norms relaxed, to make it easier. New rules would help Indian manufacturers as well, while the import of drones (primarily from China) could be avoided.

For the farm sector in India which has had low levels of mechanisation, the impact of drones is said to be tremendous as it will help farmers overcome the rising problem of labour shortage in agriculture. Drones are poised to reduce operating costs and efforts for farmers because they will be used for surveying, seeding, pesticide spraying, pollination, yield prediction, crop monitoring, land records and insurance assessment. The Drone Shakti programme promotes drone-as-a-service in India.

Krishi Vigyan Kendras under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have been promoting the use of drones among farmers. In fact, the World Economic Form’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution has recommended that several institutions need to work in cohesion to ensure that drones are widely deployed in agriculture. In addition to the Central Government, they are krishi vigyan kendras, agriculture universities, state agriculture departments, village entrepreneurs, local drone makers, panchayats and financial service providers.

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has put in place guidelines for drone pilots, including a minimum requirement of certification. The guidelines prevent operators from flying a drone over a crowd, unless it’s for official surveillance purposes and permission has been taken from the relevant authority. The DGCA has categorised drone flying into 3 zones – green, yellow and red – with increasing restrictions on operations in the said order. Concert venues generally fall in the green zone for which no flight permission is required for operating the drone in the airspace up to 400 feet, and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 kms from the airport perimeter. Moreover, the drone airspace map is available on Digital Sky.

Drones and Wildlife Stress

In India wildlife areas are considered no-fly zones but there are exceptions and drone surveillance has helped locate poachers (ironically drones are known to be used by poachers themselves), wild fires, rescue and search and avoid animal human conflict. The rule may change further with the proposed amendment to the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2021. However, it is surprising that the hazards drone misuse have not been taken into consideration with regard to this amendment, for example drones not only disturb wildlife but are known to crash into bird nests. Flock-wide panic when drones have been flown over birds’ nesting areas has made them leave.

The following suggestions pertaining to use of drones were therefore sent by BWC to the Parliamentary Standing Committee:
• Noise levels can be formalized to lower than 10 decibels to begin with.
• Anyone using a drone should exercise caution and respect for endangered species. Filmmakers using ecologically sensitive habitats should be cautioned by punitive measures.
• Restriction on the number of drones allowed per unit time around a sanctuary should form an enforceable metric in the Act.
• Drones should be permitted for specific research purposes only once a week.
• Best practices for minimizing interference of aerial vehicles over animals should be followed.

BWC does not know if any precautions were taken when in 2022 for the first time thermal drones were used to study jumbo herd composition and behaviour when over 23 elephants ventured into Gadchiroli from Chhattisgarh. They had come the previous year too and returned after months when the paddy fields were harvested.   

Unnerving Vibrations

There are instances where drones have negatively impacted sensitive wildlife. This is simply because they are sensitive to noise and vibrations which disturbs their sleeping, resting, nesting, breeding, feeding and living conditions and attitudes.

Drones sound similar to bees and they scare wildlife. There is no doubt that they are adversely harm wildlife which includes land animals, birds and water-creatures. Unlike humans, animals and birds know the presence of any foreign object several kilometres away since their sensitivity is still intact.

There are people who are sure that drone use is detrimental to wildlife. A video that went viral in 2019 showed a small cub trying to repeatedly scale slick, snowy slopes to reach its obviously distressed mother. The video was widely shared as showing the cub’s pluck and determination, but the National Geographic reported it in a story titled “Viral bear video shows dark side of filming animals with drones.” The article said the reason the cub found itself in this predicament was in fact because it was terrified of the drone filming it.

Wildlife footage via drones has often shown herds of animal galloping across land and crossing through water. Those animals are actually terrified, running for their lives after seeing and hearing the drones overhead and horizontally – they perceive a drone as a threat.

Eagles are known to attack drones. Such film encounters are sad, not worth circulating on social media. What is the point in seeing wildlife scared and defensive?

It is unfortunate that drone operators do not realise that the wildlife being filmed is getting affected and discontinue flying in the area. For example flying a drone directly up to a flock of birds will capture them flying away but this is harassment. The birds are using up essential energy that they would otherwise require for essential survival. Drone use near endangered or threatened wildlife is considered “take” and such violations incur heavy fines in some countries.

Furthermore, the stress can disrupt their reproduction, especially in raptors, ravens and seagulls. Several eggs in nests have not hatched because of drones. They injure their wings and beaks when they attack the drones. And this can happen any where not only in wildlife sanctuaries because commercial and civilian drones are allowed to be flown in India. Worse still, drones can be used by poachers to capture wildlife, alive or dead.

Page last updated on 25/11/23