With a cub that small and vulnerable

Sure enough. Several of you mentioned a drone in the Shermer’s ursine childrearing advice post, which was news to me, but y’all were right. Ed Yong at the Atlantic:

The video was uploaded to the ViralHog YouTube channel on Friday, and after being shared on Twitter, it rapidly went viral. At the time of this writing, it has been watched 17 million times. The cub’s exploits were equal parts gif, nature documentary, and motivational poster. It had all the elements of an incredible story: the most adorable of protagonists, rising and falling action (literally), and a happy ending. It was a tale of tenacity in the face of adversity, triumph against the odds.

And a morality tale on the benefits of a sink or swim approach to childrearing as opposed to the horrors of not letting toddlers fall down steep mountainsides.

But when biologists started watching the video, they saw a very different story.

The video, they say, was clearly captured by a drone. And in it, they saw the work of an irresponsible drone operator who, in trying to film the bears, drove them into a dangerous situation that almost cost the cub its life. “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.” (It wasn’t just scientists, either; several drone pilots were also dismayed by the footage.)

The only information accompanying the video says that it was captured on June 19, 2018, in the Magadan region of Russia. No one knows who shot it, which drone was used, or how close it flew. But “it doesn’t matter how far away it was, because I can tell from the bears’ behavior that it was too close,” says Clayton Lamb of the University of Alberta, who studies grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies and uses drones to map the area where they live.

The setting of the video is already suspicious, Lamb says. With a cub that small and vulnerable, it’s very unlikely that a mother bear would opt to traverse such a steep and slippery slope. “There’s no reason a female would normally accept that risk, unless they were forced into it,” Lamb says. Throughout the video, he notes, the mother is constantly looking up at the drone and clearly bothered by its presence. At some point, the footage zooms in, probably because the drone itself was swooping closer. That, Lamb says, explains why the mother unexpectedly swats at the cub, causing it to fall. She probably read the drone’s approach as a kind of attack and was trying to push her cub away.

But it’s ok, the drone pilot was doing the bears a favor, giving the cub a chance to toughen up and not look for handouts.

7 Responses to “With a cub that small and vulnerable”