Volunteers at Zion National Park, located near Springdale, Utah, recently witnessed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flying close to a herd of bighorn sheep on the eastern side of the park.
The National Park Service (NPS) reports that the volunteers observed the herd scattering at the approach of the drone, with the aircraft separating several young sheep from adults.
According to the NPS, harassment of wildlife within the park is illegal, as is the use of drones. In fact, the agency says UAV operations are prohibited throughout the entire national park system.
Rangers, the NPS notes, have seen a large increase in drone flights within the Zion. Some visitors have complained about UAVs interrupting the usual peace of the park's soundscape and wilderness, while others have reported feeling unsafe as drones buzz through slot canyons and along exposed trails.
Drones may prevent birds from successfully nesting or cause nests to be abandoned if the birds feel harassed, the NPS adds.
‘Animals can be injured when attempting to escape or avoid drone activity. Drones can also change the natural behavior of wildlife and lead to unnecessary energy expenditures,’ remarks wildlife biologist Cassie Waters. ‘This has the potential to affect survival and reproductive success in many species. We are therefore really concerned with drones, their effect on wildlife and our ability to preserve the natural environment.’
The NPS says the penalty for operating a UAV in Zion can be up to a six-month prison sentence and/or $5,000 fine.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service