You might have seen a video of a baby bear repeatedly sliding down a steep, snow-covered slope and painstakingly climbing his way back up to reach his mother. In the past few days, it has gone viral on social media, with many people praising the little bear for his determination. However, wildlife experts who have watched the video say that it’s not heart-warming at all: what it actually shows, they say, is a drone getting much too close to a mother bear and her cub, frightening them and ultimately endangering the baby.
The video was first published on the YouTube channel of ViralHog – a company that sells viral videos – on November 2. The company wrote that the video had been filmed in the region of Magadan, Russia, on June 19, and provided little additional information. Their YouTube link started going viral last week, just after its publication. The footage was quickly ripped and shared on other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where it racked up tens of thousands of views.
It was clear to multiple wildlife experts who viewed the footage that it was captured via a drone. Drones can confuse and scare all sorts of animals if they get too close. Studies have shown that they can cause high levels of stress for elephants as well as for black bears (which are smaller than the brown bears seen in the above video).
Throughout the video, the mother bear looks up towards the camera. At one point, when the baby bear has almost reached the top of the ridge, the footage zooms in – likely because the drone swooped toward the animals. The mother bear swats her paw down at her cub, causing it to fall down the slope again. Speaking to The Atlantic, multiple wildlife experts saw this footage as deeply problematic and urged drone users to think twice before flying close to animals. Clayton Lamb of the University of Alberta – who studies grizzly bears and uses drones to map their territory – told The Atlantic that the mother likely saw the drone as a threat, and tried to push her cub away from it. He also found that the very setting of the video was suspicious, since a mother bear usually would not bring a cub onto such a steep slope: “There’s no reason a female would normally accept that risk, unless they were forced into it,” he told The Atlantic.
Tweet by behavioral ecologist Katie LaBarbera.
Many other types of animals have been filmed experiencing adverse reactions to drones filming them. One biologist has even created a video playlist showing instances in which drones have flown too close to wild animals – who sometimes fight back.