“Wildlife tourism, in its simplest sense, is watching wild animals in their natural habitat… Wildlife tourism is also a multimillion-dollar industry.” — Wikipedia
More than a billion tourists per year with visits to wildlife tourist attractions that may account for 20–40% of global tourism. This translates to hundreds of millions of nature enthusiasts and amateur wildlife photographers keen to let everyone know where they are, how much fun they are having and capturing as many photos with the animals as possible.
Then can ethical wildlife viewing and the nature enthusiast thrive hand in hand with the age of self promotion and selfies? Absolutely yes, with a little consideration and thought, and with the bonus of increasing our own pleasure!
The most magical and teaching moments in nature are when nature is totally unaware of us. As for us, at EwA, we even got some great photos to capture it (at a proper distance and with the right equipment). However, like us even the most enthusiastic of nature advocates can forget to behave in a way so as not to affect the animals and their habitat. Thankfully, the EwA Wildness Etiquette is here to help us enjoy nature mindfully & ethically.
Here’s an easy-to-remember word for all of us to remind us of best practices and our responsibilities in nature and around wildlife when we are in the moment: Respect.
The EwA Wild Attitude
Our Nature adventures start with ‘an attitude’ and prior knowledge. That attitude should be centered on the wildlife (not on ourself), so as to ensure safety for both us and the species we observe. That attitude is one humility which paired with empathy and knowledge will lead us to become ecological actors of change.
As a wonderful consequence, we will then succeed in having the time of our life in Nature and we will feel good about it!
As a guest in their habitat, we should not feel entitled because we have paid to be here. We are in their habitat and for the sake of conservation and the future of the species there are a few specifics rules to follow.
We don’t need to get that close to get that picture to prove that we were there: a zoom does wonders.
Distance and safety above all! Don’t get close. Know and respect the viewing regulations.
Safety for ourselves and the animal can equally be thought of in terms of distance. Whilst surely it speaks for itself, this is the one aspect that a lot of us forget in the moment.
Besides straight direct safety issues, getting too close can also have terrible consequences to the health of animals who can catch the parasites and diseases we host.
Of course selfies directly with wildlife should be a straight no-go… Too many animals have died because of narcissistic tendencies.
So get to know viewing regulations and guidelines prior to your wildlife viewing event. And allow for an additional distance buffer as the viewing rules are general minimal and not at all optimal for wildlife.
✓ Distance & Safety: Ensure your and their safety, protect their health.
✓ Use Binoculars, Spotting Scopes, Telephoto Lenses: You simply don’t need to be that close.
✗ The Wildlife Selfie Dilemma: Narcissism has been a killer for them and us.
Get your bearings right & Know your DONTs
We go beyond simply thinking of distance and safety here and also want to avoid causing emotional and physical distress to the animals.
If an animal wakes up, or stops feeding, or changes course after seeing you, this is the sign we are too close. That is, we are interfering with his activity and have become a predator threat. Stress levels have heightened (even if not visible to us), and this has a negative impact on their behavior (mating, foraging, resting, etc). Back off, or even leave the site so that the animal can resume what he was doing prior to your interruption and relax his vigilance.
This means explicitly:
Don’t incite a reaction. Never force an action. Be patient!
Inciting an action is disruptive and detrimental for wildlife – besides, the best viewing (& photo) is one that results from natural action anyway.
Be ‘Slothly’ slow! Move slowly but surely & ethically…
Don’t have brusque movements, as it triggers stress and increases vigilance and cessation of the current wildlife activities.
Unless you’re chased by a wild animal, don’t run. And actually running is not always our safe option when we’re attacked…
Don’t make brusque movements, as it triggers stress and increases vigilance and cessation of the current wildlife activities.
The trails and signs are there for a reason. Then respect them…
Stay on paths and trails. They’ve been designed for a reason: to keep us as well as the wildlife and its habitat safe.
Timing is of essence, don’t disturb a chase, a ritual, nesting behaviors…
Timing is everything: Keep them wild and not habituate them. Don’t overstay, let them return to their activity without you around.
No close contact with wildlife for your sake and theirs…
There are so many reasons why it is important to avoid close contact with wildlife. One is infecting wildlife and threatening their health and life. Zoonosis and reverse zoonotic transmission is where diseases pass from animals to humans or vice versa. Surely we don’t want that on our conscious (or health)…
As for petting wild animals. We know now how damaging this is to them and at so many levels, including their psychological and physical health and when not plainly to their death or a life in captivity (as in most cub petting situations for instance). So no touching in all circumstances. And let’s remember that big cats even in sanctuaries or zoos are not domesticated animals…
Disappear within your surroundings.
If you are a birder or more generally a naturalist, you know that already. Our best shot at spotting that species we’re looking for is to be quiet and invisible.
Don’t blind wildlife…
Lights out: At night, let’s not blind them and prefer red light to white light…
Be natural. Give your skin a rest and preserve wildlife!
Be cautious of the harmful chemicals you’re wearing. In the wild, let’s give our skin a rest and preserve wildlife!
Let’s inspire our kids while keeping them at close range.
Simple kid rules: Being quiet also applies to our kids. Help them become true Nature and wildlife lovers. And most importantly keep your children at constant close range.
Also know that pets and wildlife don’t mix. So keep your pets at home when required, and if they are with you then follow leash laws. They are there to protect you and your pets from predators.
In places where off-leash hiking is allowed, keep pets close to you and within sight at all times. If they run ahead, they may bring the predator right back to you, or simply stress (and even kill) wildlife.
“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” ― Chief Seattle
Leave no trace, no litter. Make it as if you were never ‘there’… Why? To keep those animals safe from us, and avoid spreading potentially invasive species (of fruits, etc.)
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ― Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
Challenging, discussing, therefore contributing actively to the debate, is how ethics grow, and how standards get better.
✓ Listen to the guides and experts
✓ Help: Clean, contribute knowledge, help raising awareness… You name it.
✓ Challenge your event companions, but also the experts and guides: They make mistakes too, or they don’t know it all.
The references mentioned in this page are listed in the Extended Bibliography. Also note that this Etiquette is and will remain a work in progress. If there is anything else you would like to see added, please let us know and we’ll do our best to include it. Let’s be Earthwise Aware. Let’s enjoy and protect wildlife responsibly! Thanks for your support!