Say you’re an animal rights activist—one of the militant-militant vegans, the ones who smear pig blood all over their bodies and launch themselves at scientists walking into testing labs. You hate pretty much all farms, and you especially hate farms that pretend to be nice to their animals, a.k.a. their slaves. But how do you prove that businesses selling “free range” eggs and chickens don’t treat their birds as kindly as they claim? Get yourself a spy drone, that’s how.
At least, that’s the tactic used by Animal Liberation (no relation to the more famous, similarly named Animal Liberation Front), an Australian group that aims to “end the suffering of exploited and confined animals” and “challenge society on its views of all nonhuman animals.” The drone they use is a $16,000 “hexacopter” named Hecta that resembles a remote-control toy helicopter with six rotors outfitted with a $4,200 HD camera, a zoom lens, and a custom stabilizer.
Mark Pearson, the executive director for Animal Liberation, purchased the drone in March and has taken it out twice. Already, he claims, they have found evidence of foul play in the fowl industry. “We flew Hecta over a chicken farm in New South Wales that claims to be free range,” he said. “After surveying the entire farm we didn’t see a single bird—they were all locked inside.” The owner of the farm said the birds were temporarily inside because they were being dewormed, but Mark said he has shown the footage to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and hopes the government will intervene.
What Mark and his band of activists are doing is completely legal so long as Hecta stays between ten and 30 meters above the ground, though farmers are understandably annoyed about being spied on and claim the noise from a drone freaks out their livestock. “I know some farmers who would have a go at the drone with their guns,” David Warriner, the president of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, told the Daily Telegraph. “You can’t have this stuff going around willy-nilly.”
Unfortunately for Animal Liberation, Hecta broke after its first two flights. It has since been repaired, and Mark has big plans for the copter. “We know about certain farms where lambs are forced to live in high-density pens without any shelter from either the rain or the sun,” he said. “We know about farms where the sheep get fly strike [a parasitic infection] and it’s not treated. There are others where animals are left to die from starvation. We know of cattle farms where the animals are so crowded they can’t move. The heat from the sun, as well as the ground beneath them, can be unbearable.”
Without proof, there’s little that can be done, but with footage from Hecta, Animal Liberation can take legal action.