Respect, Empathy, and Compassion

Enthusiasm for wildlife should not overtake our ability to think sensibly or unselfishly.

A wildlife attitude –besides resting on evidence-based knowledge and understanding– is also one rooted in respect, empathy, and compassion for the habitats and wildlife that we are about to discover.

The frenzy of shutter speed clicks, loud laughs, and talks, expressions of excitement coming from hordes of wildlife enthusiasts overcrowding natural habitats is now a common sight [MC-16]. This comes hand in hand with an increase in the number of deaths of the animals being observed, as well as in some cases in the death of the enthusiasts themselves. Generally speaking, it inevitably triggers high wildlife stress responses, which also has been vastly scientifically documented for decades now.

In September 2015 a news article went viral where people were so entranced to see turtles laying their eggs on the coast of Costa Rica that tourists and locals arrived in droves. This disrupted normal nesting rituals and put the wildlife at risk. Also, consider the footprint left behind of all these people in the coastal area. The title of the article ”Sea Turtles’ Chance for Life Destroyed by Selfie” [CR-15] is very telling of the modern egocentric/narcissistic selfie phenomena. When these articles go viral, for a short moment they raise awareness of our own responsibility to the environment. Usually, a public outcry ensues that is shortly after forgotten. And the cycle repeats… We need to make that awareness last, an awareness that comes with education and ‘reconnecting’ with a generous ‘self’ & nature.

No doubt that there was probably no mean intention from the viewers. All Nature enthusiasts have one thing in common: they all ‘Love’ nature. However ‘Love’ should derive from respect, empathy, compassion, and mindfulness. But modern wildlife viewing often fails in this regard. More than often, the Nature enthusiast’s love becomes more like ‘self’ love, self-centered, one that is focused on the experience of the viewer regardless of the life, habits, and habitat of the observed wildlife. It is now time to shift to empathy and exercise our ability to relate to others and nonhuman species.

It is actually fairly easy to do: just put yourself in the place of the wildlife you’re looking at. For example, every spring in Yellowstone you are sure to see a large group of photographers standing around –or even sitting on lawn chairs– talking loudly right outside some poor badger’s birthing den, waiting for the family to emerge. Though these folks may think nothing of the clamor of a rowdy bar or ball game, how would they like to live next door to that bar or ball field, or wake up to the racket of an expectant crowd of photojournalists right outside their bedroom window? [JR-16].

Or have a look at social media feeds and videos of ‘enthusiasts’. Are they observing from a position of respect or is there a mindless objectification on their faces or in their demeanor? Would you ever want to be seen like that? All it takes is a simple shift of consciousness: experience what you and your fellow viewers do from the position of the wildlife (Check also examples and references of unethical wildlife viewing).

Now let’s practice Wildlife viewing together observing some simple Wild Rules of conduct…

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The references mentioned in this page are listed in the Extended Bibliography.

The EwA Wildness Etiquette
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