“If we are willing to be still and open enough to listen, wilderness itself will teach us.” — Steven Harper
One does not realize that noise can be detrimental to wildlife. Lab studies and field research have uncovered at least four major ways in which animals are adversely affected by sound pollution:
- Hearing loss resulting from noise levels above 85 db (which isn’t that hard that hard to reach).
- Masking, which is the inability to important environmental cues.
- Non-auditory physiological effects, such as increased heart rate and respiration; and general.
- Behavioral effects, which vary greatly between species and noise characteristics resulting in for instance abandonment of territory and lost reproduction.
This ‘sounds’ extreme but we have to remember that human mechanistic sounds (the shutter of your camera, cars, honk) are not natural and far above natural sound range. As well as the number of us (at 7.6 billion and counting) reaching out to every corner of the world have spread the sound of us, and amplified its effect on wildlife. As a matter of fact, a recent study uncovered that as any predator, just the sound of us, humans, can have land-scape-scale effects at multiple trophic levels. The study’s results indicate that many of the globally observed impacts on wildlife attributed to anthropogenic activity may be explained by fear of humans [SJ19].
So, keep this in mind and just tune down or off, while in nature or in presence of animals –besides being quiet will heighten your other senses and make you enjoy more the moment…
➭ Tune Off Voice & Equipment Sounds
Whether it’s your voice or the sound of your equipment it’s all the same: tune down and turn off when possible.
For most people when we think of nature, we think calm, peaceful thoughts. Even when nature is brutal when predators are on the hunt, if you observe them (safely and from afar!), they are stealthy, quiet, try not to disturb anything before they pounce.
So we should take a lesson from this –up to the pouncing part we mean. Whilst safaris and jeeps are now commonplace to much of wildlife it’s only when the engines are off, the flashes muted and the noise levels turned down that you generally see real nature. The difference between spotting one or two giraffes in the distance whilst on the move versus seeing a full journey of giraffes, various antelopes, warthogs, birds, dragonflies and other insect life is awe-inspiring. That’s when it becomes really fascinating for the wildlife enthusiast whether simply observing or capturing those moments discreetly on camera.
Even when we are walking to an observation sight it’s worth remembering that whilst humans socialize through chatters, in nature, this disturbs the very animals you want to see and you’ll likely end up waiting longer to see nature truly natural.
So yes, that gossip can wait. Restrict all communications to what is strictly necessary to communicate to your fellows and leaders while on the trails. We know it’s exciting to be there but don’t laugh loudly: loud laughs counts as an interruptive behavior with a negative impact on wildlife physiology and stress. Express your emotions in a subtle manner, rather than being expansive: learn to restrain yourself a little.
⚠ Of course, there are exceptions. In Borneo when volunteering, we were in the forest to plant saplings for reforestation in the Kinabatangan Corridor of Life. Our facilitator spotted some broken branches and realized that the herd of pygmy elephants had recently come through. His advice – make lots of noise, sing some songs whilst working so that the elephants knew we were there. Had they come upon us unaware in the thick rainforest… Well, best not to think about it….
As for your equipment, which usually includes cameras: mute as many of its sounds you can. Yes, the sound of the shutter speed is very disruptive to wildlife (entailing vigilance increases), and certainly when it’s repetitive and when you have many camera shots being triggered at the same time. So don’t overtake pictures. Certainly, don’t use your flash. Enjoy seeing through binoculars or with your own eyes. You’ll end up seeing much more than when you see Life only through a frame…
➭ Don’t Lure or Bait by Sound
This is a known and overused practice to attract animals by mimicking their calls. The reality is that it is very disruptive to wildlife. Use of such devices interrupt breeding cycles, drive birds from their territories, or make animals “call shy” so they don’t respond to the real thing [DS16].
Lab Studies and field research show that there are at least are 4 major ways in which animals are affected by artificial sounds and noise pollution
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◊ The references mentioned in this page are listed in the Extended Bibliography.