When the tigers struck the drone from the sky, as seen in a recent and popular YouTube video, the act of animal destruction at first seemed playful.
The sight of a few chubby cats romping around in the snow helped. Certainly, a few observers found the scene amusing for the same reasons the Greeks told the tale of Icarus: Look, kids, raw nature kneecapping technological hubris. Once the cats swatted the drone to the ground, the tigers chewed on the machine for a bit, causing the object to smoke (quadcopter, quadcopter, burning bright!), before staff members took the drone away.
Hunting the drone around the tiger park was, reportedly, a form of exercise for the animals.
“This drone chasing is becoming more popular among these well-nourished tigers in the habitat,” according to China Central Television, which published the footage on Feb. 22.
Except the reason for this meeting of drone and tiger was anything but cute. As Vice’s Motherboard reported, the video was filmed at China’s Harbin Siberian Tiger Park in Heilongjiang province. One of China’s largest tiger farms, the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park is home to hundreds of tigers as well as lynx, lions and other types of big cats.
The park has also been implicated in the tiger bone and wine trade. A 2014 McClatchy D.C. investigation into the Harbin park, and another in the city of Guilin to the south, reported that the tigers were kept in “deplorable conditions. In both cities, merchants openly sold bone wine, despite a 1993 ban by China on bone products sourced from both domesticated and wild tigers.”
Though the parks are billed as conservation and tourist attractions, the Chinese government has been accused of turning a blind eye to illegal sale of tiger products sourced from the facilities. The Heilongjiang park, which receives state support for its breeding program, sold “bone invigoration liquor” on its grounds, according to a 2015 Washington Post report. The park claimed that the wine was made only from tigers after the animals died naturally.
Animal advocates are concerned that the tiger trade fuels consumer desire, which in turn puts pressure on wild cats. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty to protect endangered wildlife, rejected captive tiger farming as practiced by China for those reasons in 2007.
“After these farms started selling wine, and taxidermists started selling tiger pelts, it really stimulated waning demand from consumers,” Grace Ge Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told The Post in 2015. There are an estimated 5,000 tigers in captive farms in China; in the Chinese wilds, there are no more than two dozen Siberian tigers left, China’s State Forestry Administration estimated in 2013.
This was not the only recent drone-meets-animals incident. French officials are training four golden eagles to take out drones, as The Post reported Tuesday.
And on Monday, a man flew his quadcopter over a group of 1,500 elk resting at Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge. The drone spooked the herd, which then stampeded. Park officials declined to identify the drone pilot, from D.C., by name, reported CBS News. The man was fined $280.
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