Drone caused bears distress in viral video, researchers say

Several scientists say the video shows animals being harassed by a drone, but the person who filmed it is standing by his work.

Video of cub clambering up a hill has wildlife scientists concerned about encroachment of drones

This still image from a viral video shows a brown bear cub clammering up a steep snowy hill. (ViralHog/YouTube)

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A viral video of a baby bear and its mama clambering up a snowy slope was initially embraced as an inspirational story about perseverance — but researchers say it actually shows the animals being threatened by an intrusive drone.

The video, which has been viewed more than 22.4 million times on Twitter, shows the mother brown bear and her cub climbing up a steep, snow-covered hill. The cub slips three times, but keeps climbing until it finally makes it to the top.

The video was originally uploaded to YouTube by a company called ViralHog. Subsequent headlines dubbed the clip "cute," "adorable" and "proof you should never give up."

But Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta who studies grizzly populations, says the mother bear never would have led her cub over such treacherous terrain unless they were fleeing something — in this case, the loud, buzzing drone that was filming them.

The person who shot the video is standing by his work, but Lamb is one of several scientists speaking out about how the footage was obtained.

"Even though it does turn out good in the end, I do think there was a significant amount of risk posed to that cub," Lamb told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Small cubs that time of year are only about the size of about a small dog and they're quite weak, so had it tumbled off that cliff it could have been severely injured."

These animals clearly didn't like being harassed by this drone.- Clayton Lamb, University of Alberta 

The most concerning moment, he said, is when the camera zooms in on the cub as it nears the top the hill, only to be knocked back down when its mother swipes the snow with her paw.

Lamb said he suspects the drone was physically flown too close to the creatures, causing the mother to panic and lash out.

"It sort of caused the mom to slap the snow and sort of push the cub back down the slope, causing it to slide into a cliffy area, which put the cub in quite a bit of risk," he said.

Videographer denies getting too close 

The person who shot the video denies this. 

Dmitry Kedrov, who filmed the bears off the coast of Russia's Sea of Okhotsk, told the Russian website Lenta.ru the zoom effect was added in post-production.

He waved off criticism of the clip and and said his team observed the bears slipping down the slope several times before filming it.

"This is the ordinary life of animals," he said in a quote translated from Russian. 

But several wildlife observers say they aren't buying that explanation.

"You look at the mother bear in that video and she's staring straight at the drone for chunks of time," Sophie Gilbert, a wildlife ecologist at Idaho State University, told National Geographic.

"She's probably never seen anything like it in her life. She's got a very young cub with her, and of course her response is going to be fear."

Learning a lesson 

Lamb said the video, which people initially perceived as a lesson in never giving up, actually teaches us something different.

"Animals, they actually don't give up. It's true. It's in their nature to keep going," he said.

"We can also use their nature to learn something about how to act around them, and these animals clearly didn't like being harassed by this drone. And I think a responsible response to that would be to back your drone off and maybe try to get this footage in a way that doesn't harass these animals."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Clayton Lamb produced by Ashley Mak. 

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