Talk about a lousy day. After 14 of his free range sheep plunged to their deaths in a ravine when spooked by a drone repeatedly buzzing them, the upset shepherd was then himself beaten by the pilot – and charged by police charged to boot – for having smashed the harassing UAV as payback.
The mass-death-by-buzzing occurred in Alpe d’Huez, a mountainous area favored by skiers in winter, and hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts when the snow has gone. It’s also a traditional grazing region for French sheep breeders like Félix Portello, who this summer watched in horror as 14 members of his 1,500 herd stampeded off and over a ravine in fear of a harassing drone.
According a report this week by French daily Le Parisien, the incident took place August 11 during a period shepherds hate most: prime grazing season coinciding with an influx of vacationers. This year, tragically, one of those had a drone – and was a crap-heel to boot.
“That drone killed more sheep than wolves do,” Portello told the paper, still upset by what he saw. “It buzzed the sheep at top speed, making a hell of a noise. I waved my arms all around to signal (the pilot) to stop, but that changed nothing. The sheep were terrified, and some went over a precipice.”
As DroneDJ has reported before, use of drones for harassing animals is illegal in many US states and foreign countries. Merely flying the craft in French national parks is formally banned, moreover. But Alpe d’Huez is not a park nor a restricted flight area, so the legal question in this case should be whether the pilot was guilty of intentionally using the UAV to torment the Portello’s creatures.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the matter local cops are pursuing.
With the pilot of the harassing drone nowhere to be seen, Portello took care of his surviving sheep, and then went looking for the operator of the craft. He eventually came across a man still sporting first-person-iew googles and the landed craft nearby. Words were exchanged, tempers rose, and Portello avenged his animals by breaking the object responsible for their death. He, in short order, was treated to a knuckle sandwich, and soon visited by police informing him he’d been charged with unlawfully destroying private property.
“That’s totally backwards,” he lamented, without denying the accusation as such. “I felt I’d been aggressed and responded in a proportionate way.”
Portello still has time to file more serious charges of animal harassment, illegal killing of livestock, and destruction of professional property in his own right. But for now, he says, all his time is dedicated to getting his sheep to graze before the first snowfalls bring an end to that. If found guilty during his trial in early November, he risks a $420 fine and a criminal charge going on his record.
Portello has appealed to authorities to amend French laws regulating drone use to ban overflight of sheep and other animal herds as posing too great a risk of harassment to permit. Aware of how slow the wheels of national legislation turn, however, locals outraged by the incident are preparing to pass a municipal decree prohibiting UAV operation near grazing flocks in the region.
Even if that happens, it won’t affect Portello. He is so disgusted with events of this summer that he’s decided to start herding his flocks to more remote areas that neither tourists nor drones visit in summertime.
Photo: Biegun Wschodni
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