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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Is PETA using a drone to spy on hunters?

Drones are not just a tool of the United States military. State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says they are being used right now to monitor the movements of hunters overseas.

Negron's pet project of the legislative session aims to curtail the use of nonmilitary drones by state and local law enforcement. Even though Negron's story about hunters doesn't directly impact his proposal, SB 92, he shared it recently to help explain the growing drone market.

"I don't know how many of you saw the story about, and this is in another country so it's beyond the jurisdiction of the Florida Legislature, but I think it's PETA is using this really fancy drone to follow hunters around in some places in other countries to watch their hunting activities," Negron told reporters last week. "You're going to see more and more creative uses of drones because the technology has become so affordable."

Is PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, really taking its war against animal cruelty to the skies?

It's planning on it.

PETA announced in an April 8 press release titled "PETA to acquire drones to stalk hunters" that it is seeking drone technology to use in the United States. PETA said it wants to "monitor those who are out in the woods with death on their minds."

The group said it wants to capture video footage of "slob hunters" who drink while in possession of a firearm, fail to pursue maimed animals and use spotlights and hunting lures that are banned in some places. The group said it also intends to use drones over factory farms, fishing holes and other places "where animals routinely suffer and die."

"The talk is usually about drones being used as killing machines, but PETA drones will be used to save lives," PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement. "Slob hunters may need to rethink the idea that they can get away with murder, alone out there in the woods with no one watching."

Newkirk later told CNN that PETA was also planning to fly drones overseas where the group is active.

So PETA says it is planning to use drones both domestically and abroad, but it hasn't yet. Negron got that mixed up. But other wildlife protection groups, such as the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, have used drones to target illegal hunters in other countries.

The World Wildlife Fund received a $5 million grant from Google to deploy technology, such as sensors, tags and "conservation drones," that would help protect elephants, rhinos and tigers from wildlife traffickers and poachers. The group has already tested conservation drones over national parks in Nepal.

Negron sent us a U.S. News and World Report story about a Belgian research team conducting unmanned aerial surveys in Burkina Faso. Drones are better than plane-based surveying because they cost less and can be deployed more easily, a researcher explained.

But drones have a limited flying time and the camera zoom is sometimes not effective. The researchers could not see antelopes or baboons but could count elephants.

In this instance, Negron is right that drones are being used overseas, but he referenced hunters — not illegal poachers — when describing their target.

For the record, Negron's bill does nothing to prevent private groups from using drones in Florida. SB 92 would ban the use of drones by law enforcement agencies unless they have a warrant or are responding to a threat of a terrorist attack. It also prevents information obtained by drones from being used in courts as evidence.

Another point: In the United States, flying a drone isn't as simple as buying one and putting it in the air. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates drone use by government entities and corporations. Because PETA is a nonprofit, it might be able to work around the rules by flying under model aircraft rules, which generally limit operations below 400 feet and away from air traffic.

Our ruling

Negron said he thought PETA is "using this really fancy drone to follow hunters around in some places in other countries to watch their hunting activities."

Negron, to our eye, conflates PETA's plan to use drones to watch hunters in the United States and abroad with other wildlife groups currently tracking poachers overseas with drones.

But his main point is largely right. Animal rights groups are using drones to look for animal abuses. We rate his claim Half True.

The statement

Says PETA "is using this really fancy drone to follow hunters around in some places in other countries."

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Wednesday, to reporters

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Half True
PETA announced that it is pursuing drone technology in the United States and abroad, but the group does not have drones yet. Other animal rights groups do have drones and have used them overseas. We rate this claim Half True.

PolitiFact Florida: Is PETA using a drone to spy on hunters? 04/14/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 14, 2013 10:54pm]
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