People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced a bold new program earlier this year that proposed the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, to “monitor” hunters and anglers in popular recreational areas. At the time, PETA implied that its staff would be purchasing and piloting the surveillance drones themselves, but a recent press release revealed that the organization will be outsourcing that duty to its members. For the price of $324.99 plus shipping, any PETA member can purchase an “Air Angel” drone from the organization’s online catalog.
“Bowhunting season in Massachusetts is now open—but hunters who are hitting the woods had better keep an eye on the skies,” PETA wrote in a news release.
It is an attempt by the animal rights organization to create a hobby of “hunter watching.” PETA encourages its members to use the drones to follow sportsmen and record video of hunts, hoping to get footage of “illegal or cruel hunting practices, such as failing to follow an injured deer, laying bait to lure geese, or leaving bear cubs orphaned.”
“PETA’s drones will help protect wildlife by letting hunters know that someone may be watching—and recording—them, so they should think twice before illegally killing or maiming any living being,” said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. “Wildlife watchers outnumber wildlife killers five to one—and if even a fraction of these kind people use hobby drones, they’ll make a huge difference by exposing hunters’ dirty secrets.”
The footage will then be collected by PETA and possibly shared with law enforcement. Beyond that, the organization does not specify what it will do with the accumulated video.
The vast majority of sportsmen have reacted negatively to PETA’s announcement, saying that using drones to stalk hunters is merely harassment. Drones are an increasingly popular tool in conservation and wildlife protection, but many say PETA’s true motive is to discourage hunting. Unmanned patrol craft are useful in surveying large tracts of wilderness for poachers, and have been used successfully in places such as Nepal or Kenya. However, PETA’s push to monitor law-abiding outdoorsmen is seen by hunters as an invasion of privacy.
Lawmakers agreed. Shortly after PETA’s announcement in April, Texas severely limited recreational drone use and made surveillance with a drone a misdemeanor. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn also signed a bill in August banning the use of drones to interfere with hunters or anglers, with language that specifically mentioned PETA.
“I think these drones are a new frontier as far as the invasion of our personal rights,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Adam Brown (R-Champaign).