Every year, around 5,000 greater flamingos flock to the wetlands of Mannar in northern Sri Lanka, attracting a huge crowd of bird and wildlife photographers. In recent years, however, photographers have started using drones to capture aerial photos of these majestic animals – and environmentalists worry that it could disturb the birds and drive them away from Mannar.
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With the release of drones such as the DJI Mini 2 and the DJI Mini SE, aerial photography has become much more affordable and accessible. While the best drones for beginners make aerial photography more accessible, it’s important that people understand when it’s appropriate to use them. There has been a lot of debate surrounding how disturbing drones are to wildlife, and in particular birds. While the number of people using drones to capture these beautiful animals is small, the number is growing and it could pose a serious threat to the flamingo population.
Sampath Seneviratne of the University of Colorado studies migratory birds in the Mannar area and explains, “When these drones fly just a few meters above the flamingos with the whirring sound of motors, the birds often treat the noise as an aerial predator and would take off in great anxiety."
Not only does this selfish act cause distress to the birds, but it could also negatively impact the local economy. The flamingos attract a huge number of tourists each year, who help to boost the livelihoods of locals that have suffered years of civil war. Should the flamingos be driven away from the area, it’s likely that poverty and food shortages in Mannar will increase.
It’s currently illegal to fly drones in sensitive areas of Sri Lanka, and to do so requires approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. To discourage people from using drones to photograph the flamingos, wildlife officers are deployed to the area where the birds are abundant.
“Like any other technical tool, the impact of the drone depends on the operators,” says Chandima Fernando, an ecologist with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. “Sri Lanka needs guidelines and their strict enforcement when it comes to wildlife studies and recreational flying.” Only with better education and more stringent rules in place can wildlife experts and locals be sure that both the flamingos and tourists will continue to flock to Mannar.