Animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced plans to launch hunter- and fisher-tracking drone aircraft in American airspace today. The non-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will supposedly fly over popular fishing spots and wooded areas to make sure hunters comply with local, state, and federal law. PETA, which has an aggressive public relations arm and a history of publicity stunts, recently launched a campaign against the Iditarod.
PETA's Kaitlynn Kelly said in an email that "PETA will soon have some impressive new weapons at its disposal to combat those who gun down deer and doves." The organization published a blog post (which, incidentally, name-dropped Morrissey) with details of the UAV project. Interestingly, PETA has not deployed the drones yet: The announcement was made to detail PETA's plans to deploy the drones—a strategy which earns the organization maximum publicity and minimum legal liability from any issues surrounding the real-life use of UAVs. Although non-profit organizations in the United States can fly drones (such as the popular AR.Parrot] and competitors such as the DJI Phantom), strict line-of-sight laws and FAA regulations turn actual use into much more of a legal gray area. In everyday life, use of UAVs in the United States largely depends on the knowledge, sympathies, and sentiments of local law enforcement.
According to Kelly, PETA plans to purchase several Aerobot Cinestar Octocopters—eight-rotored octocopters designed for use by the film industry and landscape architects. The Cinestar is designed to carry heavy cameras and has a 20 minute flight time when carrying smaller cameras; it is also intended for use by a two-person crew. Aerobot, which is based in Australia, markets to an international customer base not constrained by the FAA's rules.
Once deployed, the animal rights organization says it will use the UAVs to collect footage of illegal activity such as hunters drinking while in possession of a firearm, maiming animals for fun (leading to possible persecution on animal cruelty counts), and using locally-forbidden hunting or fishing enhancements such as spotlights and speed lures. In a prepared statement, PETA's Ingrid Newkirk said that "Slob hunters may need to rethink the idea that they can get away with murder, alone out there in the woods with no one watching."
PETA is not the first animal rights organization to use UAVs to monitor hunters, although they will be one of the first to do so within the United States if the project goes forward. In 2012, the World Wildlife Fund launched anti-poacher drones in Africa designed to provide law enforcement with video proof of poacher wrongdoing and real-time intelligence. But while the World Wildlife Fund project involves local authorities, the PETA project appears to be independent. In late 2012, a South Carolina-based advocacy group called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) had their drone shot down while monitoring a pigeon hunt.
The animal rights group also says they will try using the UAVs to monitor wrongdoing at factory farms, which could provide a way to sidestep recently passed anti-whistleblower laws in the agriculture sector.
[Image: Flickr user Villehoo]