Good’oh, mate: Aussie pilots a banned drone around zoo’s lions

There are deeds that qualify as “drones for good,” and others that must sadly be cast as “drones for dumb.” It’s that latter group that a pilot in Australia joined after he decided to fly his drone in the lion enclosure of a Victoria zoo – then got uppity when ordered to stop.

Pilot violates zoo ban on drones, lies about it, then gets uppity

The lunkheaded flight was made in in Mansfield, a town about 120 miles northeast of Melbourne. Officials at the zoo noticed the pilot hovering his drone inside an enclosure near two rare African white lions. Though some, but certainly not all city, state, or national regulations may formally prohibit uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) use in or above zoos, the vast majority of those facilities have established internal rules banning the craft, and for obvious reasons. 

Which was the case in Mansfield, whose 16.5-foot walls securing the lions behind them are also intended to keep visitors – and any objects they might have brought with them – out. 

The pilot ignored that not-so-subtle message, opting instead to lift the drone off and over the barriers, and navigate it toward the zoo’s lions. It would be difficult to have any degree of interest in UAVs and not have seen the proliferating reports and official warnings about pilots harassing wildlife with the craft, and it’s not that long of a leap to deduce that pestering penned animals is also a no-no. The Mansfield flier clearly ignored all those messages. 

Perhaps worse still, when a keeper who’d been feeding the felines legged over to order the drone down, the operator got snotty. 

It’s not hard: Keep. Drones. Away. From. Animals

Zoo owner Bronwen Wilson told Australia’s ABC News that the pilot initially said he’d been given authorization to fly the drone around the zoo – an utter fabrication, she said (and, being the boss, she ought to know). When she approached him to sort the situation out, Wilson said the visitor got defensive in an oddly offensive manner. 

“He asked if it was alright if he used a camera,” she recalled of the attempt to pass buzzing a drone around a pair of wild lions as identical to taking a snap shot. “[But] he asked in an odd way and leaned back like he was expecting a confrontation, which was odd, and of course cameras are fine.”

Wilson said the both pilot and drone eventually complied with zoo rules before the lions became alarmed. “They looked at it and walked over and went into the corner and stood in the corner watching it,” Wilson says. 

That, however, was not the only risk the drone and pilot posed for creatures at the zoo – including human visitors. Kangaroos are allowed to roam free on the grounds, she notes, and can be trouble when spooked.

“If they panic, they can just go crashing into things,” she noted. “Fortunately they weren’t in the area where the guy with the drone was, but that’s definitely a risk when someone has a drone.” 

Asked if she’d ever experienced similar defiance before, Wilson said it was unprecedented in visitors and zoo animals alike. 

 “Behavior like that,” she said of the wild drone pilot, “absolutely not.”

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