A viral video of a mother bear and her cub struggling up a cliff has been making the rounds this week. The cub repeatedly falls on its way to the top in what appears to be an uplifting tale of persistence. It’s not.
The video is a lesson in what drone pilots shouldn’t do while filming animals.
The video, which you can watch below, shows the mother bear and her cub climbing a dangerous, snow-laden cliff. While the mother makes it to the top with few issues, the cub is not so lucky. It repeatedly slips and falls, only to persistently trudge back up the cliff to meet its mother.
Once the cub reaches the top, the camera zooms in and the mother swipes, knocking the cub back down. It takes several heart-wrenching minutes for the pair to be reunited and go on their way.
It’s easy to mistake this footage for a tough mother’s lesson and a young cub willing itself to be with its mother. However, scientists speaking to The Atlantic tell a different tale.
“I found it really hard to watch,” says Sophie Gilbert, an ecologist at the University of Idaho who studies, among other things, how drones affect wildlife. “It showed a pretty stark lack of understanding from the drone operator of the effects that his actions were having on the bears.”
The mother bear wasn’t teaching her cub a lesson in persistence, she was running away from a loud, flying object. The dangerous trip up the cliff was a necessity to get away from the drone, to escape from this unknown danger.
“There’s no reason a female would normally accept that risk, unless they were forced into it,” says University of Alberta’s Clayton Lamb, an expert on grizzly bears.
The mother’s swipe that knocked the cub back down the cliff wasn’t tough love. She was likely reacting to the drone moving closer, trying to protect her cub from the threat.
Drones are a valuable research tool for researchers like Lamb, allowing them to explore inaccessible regions and capture footage of animals without disturbing them. Thoughtless amateurs pose a real danger when they don’t know how to safely operate their drone around animals, forcing the creatures into predicaments like the one seen in the video.
Guides on appropriate drone usage exist. Acting responsibly and causing minimum disturbance is key, as is always the case when approaching wild animals.
It’s all too easy for fall into nuisance behaviour when you don’t know any better. Especially when you’re using something like a drone, where the remote nature creates a disconnect between your actions and the reactions of those around you.
Ignorance is no excuse. Take the time to learn how the tools you use affect those around you.