The EwA Wildness Etiquette » Ethical Wildlife Watching & Photography
Wildlife watching, in its simplest sense, is watching wild animals in their natural habitat. Wildlife tourism is also a multimillion-dollar industry, and the more of us out there watching wandering in the wild, means the more delicate we need to be…
15 Easy Outdoors Rules
To help protect Nature & Wildlife
Can Ethical wildlife watching 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 sense of wonder!
The most magical and teaching moments in nature are when nature is totally unaware of us. However, like us, even the most enthusiastic of nature advocates can forget to behave mindfully. Thankfully, the EwA Wildness Etiquette is here to help us enjoy nature mindfully & ethically.
Knowing is Caring: Learn before you go. Enjoy Nature well prepared so as to minimize your impact, and maximize safety for anyone (wildlife included) as well as for the enjoyment of everyone.
Our Nature encounters start with ‘an attitude’ and prior knowledge. That attitude is one of humility which paired with empathy and knowledge makes us ecological actors of change. That attitude is centered on the wildlife (not on oneself), so as to ensure safety for both us and the species we observe.
As a wonderful consequence, we fully connect with Nature and we can feel good about it!
Wherever we are we should always behave as respectful guests. For the sake of conservation and the future of species here are a few rules to follow.
The reasons & science behind the rules.
We don’t need to get that close to snap that picture to prove that we were there: a zoom does wonderfully.
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 for the health of animals who can catch and die from the parasites and diseases that we host (e.g., captive and wild chimpanzees dying of a respiratory disease caused by human metapneumovirus; Human influenza viruses which have infected pigs many times throughout the world, and has often caused serious outbreaks).
▹ Get to know viewing regulations and guidelines prior to your wildlife viewing event. Allow for an additional distance buffer as the viewing rules are generally 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: A straight no-go. Narcissism has been a killer for them (and us). Protect them and don’t indulge…
⚠ When you do take and post photos, we strongly advise you to scrub all the GPS data from your nature & wildlife pics (How to). Poachers and collectors are scanning social media to scout endangered wildlife for illegal trade. No endangered species is spared (See the case with rattlesnakes poaching)…
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/her 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 animals can resume what they were doing prior to your interruption and relax their 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 make 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. Running is not always a safe option when we’re attacked…
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 do 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 conscience (or health)…
▹ No petting of wild animals. We know now how damaging this is to them and at so many levels, including to their psychological and physical health and when it’s not plainly leading to their death or a life in captivity (as in most cub petting situations for instance).
▹ ‘No touching’ applies in all circumstances. Let’s remember as well 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.
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. Most importantly keep your children at a constant close range.
Know that pets and wildlife don’t mix. Keep your pets at home when required. If they are with you, please 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 predators in the area. There is also the possibility that they get into an altercation and get rabbies. More generally, they unmistably 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 (lethal fungi, alien invasive plants that harm pollinators and destroy the balance of a habitat etc.)
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ― Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
Asking questions, discussing, challenging, 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 raise awareness… You name it.
✓ Ask and even challenge your event companions, but also the experts and guides: They make mistakes too, or they don’t know it all. This is the perfect opportunity to learn from each other…
Sharing is Caring Spread the Word!
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◊ The references mentioned on 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!