Every year, around 5,000 flamingos flock to the Mannar Wetlands in northern Sri Lanka, attracting huge crowds of bird and wildlife photographers. In recent years, however, photographers have started using drones to capture aerial photos of these majestic animals – and conservationists fear this could disturb the birds and drive them away from Mannar.
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With the release of drones such as the DJI Mini 2 and DJI Mini SE, aerial photography has become much more affordable and accessible. While the best drones for beginners make aerial photography more accessible, it’s important that people understand when it’s appropriate to use them. There has been a lot of debate about how drones disturb wildlife, and birds in particular. While the number of people using drones to capture these beautiful animals is low, the numbers are growing and this could pose a serious threat to the flamingo population.
Sampath Seneviratne of the University of Colorado studies migrating birds in the Mannar region and explains: “When these drones fly a few feet above the flamingos with the roar of the engines, the birds often treat the noise as an aerial predator. and take off in great anxiety.”
Not only does this selfish act cause distress to the birds, but it could also have a negative impact on the local economy. The flamingos attract large numbers of tourists every year, helping to improve the livelihoods of locals who have suffered from years of civil war. If flamingos are driven out of the area, it is likely that poverty and food shortages in Mannar will increase.
It is currently illegal to fly drones in sensitive areas of Sri Lanka, and this requires the approval of the Civil Aviation Authority from Sri Lanka. To discourage people from using drones to photograph the flamingos, wildlife officers are deployed to the area where the birds are abundant.
“Like any other technical tool, the impact of the drone depends on the operators”, explains Chandima Fernando, ecologist at the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. “Sri Lanka needs guidelines and their strict application in wildlife surveys and recreational flying.” Only with better education and stricter rules in place can wildlife experts and locals be sure that flamingos and tourists will continue to flock to Mannar.
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