Drones Keep Watchful Eye on Illegal Hunting

The traditional sport of foxhunting has fallen under the watchful gaze of aerial drones. (Image credit: Richard Chaff / Shutterstock.com)

In England, using dogs to hunt foxes has been illegal since 2005, though that hasn't stopped a few hunting enthusiasts from flouting the law.

But the League Against Cruel Sports, a British animal-rights group, has a weapon of its own in the fight against illegal hunting: aerial drones.

The drones are equipped with video cameras that can record hunting activity on the ground. The league will turn over any evidence of any illegal hunts to police for prosecution, the BBC reports.

"There is a war in the countryside," Joe Duckworth, head of the league, said in a statement. "We are excited to be the first animal welfare charity in Great Britain to be exploring drone technology. We are confident that it will make a fantastic contribution to bringing wildlife criminals to justice."

The group obtained its drones from ShadowView, a nonprofit aerial surveillance and monitoring organization that offers services and technology to conservation, disaster relief and other groups, according to Care2.com.

This isn't the first time drones have performed conservation and environmental work: They've been used by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (a marine wildlife conservation group) and by the World Wildlife Fund to combat poaching in Africa, Care2 reports. [Satellites Gallery: Science from Above]

The reaction from British hunting groups to the league's drones has been unenthusiastic.

"We think this is a PR stunt, and the chances of the sort of drones being discussed ever providing evidence to support a prosecution against a hunt is very low," said Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance, an organization that supports legal hunts, as quoted in New Scientist.

"We think the danger might come from the reaction of animals, especially horses, to these drones if they ever try to follow a hunt," Bonner said.

There might also be a more direct sort of protest against the use of drones: In the United States, drones monitoring hunting activity have been shot out of the sky by hunters, according to New Scientist.

And though they may be intrusive, the use of drones — even over private property — is legal in the U.K., the United States and many other countries.

As long as the drone weighs less than 44 pounds (20 kilograms) and is flying more than 492 feet (150 meters) from a congested area, no special permission is needed in the U.K., according to the BBC.

In the United States, drones fly above an uneven patchwork of federal, state and local laws, most of which are outdated and offer no clear guidance regarding privacy or property rights, the Associated Press reports.

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.