Earthwise Aware (EwA) is centered around promoting eco-literacy, and advancing the practice of an informed, ethical and compassionate attitude with respect to nature habitats and animals (wild or in captivity). This, wherever we are, whatever we do and whoever we are —a tourist, a visitor, a conservation or ecology scientist, expert or leader, a volunteer, or simply an eco-minded citizen.
There is a need to move towards adopting and practicing more consistent and coherent ethics in the areas of ecological research , field conservation studies , volunteering and citizen science [6,9], and in the domain of wildlife tourism [5,8] or wildlife entertainment  activities. That need is made even more obvious as we witness more and more unethical incidents with damaging consequences on wildlife and ecosystems [7,8,10]. Then we are here to help and promote the discussion, and translate it into positive actions .
The will to act ethically starts at the level of the individual backed by a community. EwA is dedicated in enabling and growing an informed and responsible form of conservation engagement.
“Empowering individuals and organizations to make Earthwise choices.”
That we are Nature enthusiasts, travelers, visitors or volunteers –or as conservation professionals, researchers or citizen scientists– we want (and need) to be informed for acting with the best environmental interests in mind. EwA’s is focused on promoting this attitude.
Earthwise Aware’s mission is then concretely about: Guiding the traveler, tourist and/or visitor throughout the process of choosing an ethical nature or wildlife venue. Helping the researcher to develop an ethical scientific inquiry, or the visitor to understand what s/he is looking at. Preparing him/her in adopting a set of ethics that is compassionate and responsible so as to minimize ecological disruptions and potential harm to that habitat or to that animal. The same applies to leaders, with the added component of a set of ethics targeting specifically how to lead a group of enthusiastic people who might be unprepared.
Encouraging the development of relevant ethical conservation wildlife venues, ecological projects, and responsible volunteering or wildlife viewing experiences is our mandate.
Besides providing traditional education means, we envision building online tools for facilitating the EwA’s user experience – enabling her/him to make informed decisions and actions.
For instance, Wildlife tourism or Nature volunteering is a very rewarding experience for all and a definite asset for conservation when the visitors are well-informed and well-managed. EwA is born out of the realization, over years of participating in various wildlife-centered venues all over the world and working closely with wildlife conservation experts, that poorly designed conservation studies or wildlife touring and volunteering without being prepared and correctly informed is not sustainable. Instead, these are detrimental to the goal of preserving, conserving, protecting. Lack of both knowledge and preparation has the adverse overall effect to trigger declines in conservation standards. It can even encourage the rise of unethical organizations that actually take advantage of this ignorance for profit as seen in South Africa with lion breeding farms that attract thousands of uninformed conservation volunteers to care about lion cubs for the hidden benefits of personal profits and fueling canned hunting operations.
Now how do we identify the good from the bad opportunities and venues? What questions do we ask ourselves when designing a field study? Do we know what it takes to act conservation-wisely? How do we prepare ourselves to travel and volunteer responsibly? These are few of the challenges that nature enthusiasts face when researching an opportunity and preparing for it, and ones that we at EwA intend to help overcome.
EwA is currently focused on:
- Sharing important nature and wildlife conservation challenges via our EwA social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+).
- Guiding citizen conservationists, tourists in their search for organizations, conservation venues or volunteering projects, while ensuring that conservation ethics and relevance are in the picture at all stage of the exploration process.
- Encouraging researchers to design a study following a clear ethical strategy, and to showcase it in their publications so as to spread ethics protocols in the field.
- Informing nature enthusiasts about proper etiquette(s).
- Preparing travelers and volunteers to their mission and role(s). From teaching how to audit a venue to ensure its sustainability, relevance, and ethics; to understanding what etiquette is expected from a visitor and/or a volunteer (and leaders). The intent being that all can enjoy the benefits of contributing positively and efficiently to great causes.
- Collaborating with & helping conservation leaders fostering conservation awareness and efficacy.
Do we really need better Nature & Wildlife ethics?
Yes we do. As an example, take the recent eco-volunteering and tourism ethical issues…
As wildlife viewing and conservation volunteering opportunities are exploding with better economics, with it the level of environmental harm that we inflict knowingly and not is also increasing drastically.
Few of many recent extreme examples include:
- Criminal Tourist attractions: Tiger temple attraction supplying the black market [5,6], Elephant rides in Thailand, Lion cub petting and walking with lions in Africa [7,9,10], private zoos and menageries.
- Harmful interaction with wildlife: Selfies with wildlife. Examples: Baby dolphin death in Argentina (Feb 2016) , shark harassment case in Florida (Feb 2016), Goose death case in Macedonia (March 2016).
- CON conservation organizations and volunteer programs as in the cases of lions farms fueling unethical zoos, canned hunting in South Africa [7,9] etc.
We need to be alert and recognize scams and unethical endeavors. Visiting, working in such places or remaining silent equals promoting those organizations.
More mainstream issues include not realizing that we don’t know how to behave in the wild so as to minimize our ecological impact. Most wildlife travelers and volunteers do not know how to walk, talk in the wild (that is different than when we do so in the cities); they don’t know what to look at and for, they don’t know how to approach wildlife and when not to do it. This is the result of a disconnect – the result of a sedentary life that does not prepare us to treat Nature responsibly. As well as this is the result of the commodification of Nature via easy wildlife tourism, and the objectification of wildlife throughout the multiple opportunities that we have to get unnaturally close to wildlife (e.g., zoos, aquarium, sanctuaries, etc.). On a positive note: It’s not hard to learn the skills for moving in and respecting natural habitats and its inhabitants in such a way that we minimize our ecological impact while being safe. EwA is here to help for that as well.
Ultimately the only one who is responsible for making an ethical choice/decision about where we volunteer, what we visit, how we behave generally in the wild and what we do in unethical or ambiguous conservation circumstances is ‘ourselves’. Let’s make the right choices together…
 Towards Improving the Ethics of Ecological Research. Crozier, G.K.D, & Schulte-Hostedde, A.I. (2015)
 Designing Field Studies for Biodiversity Conservation. Feinsinger, P. (2001)
 Putting Animal Empathy on Display. Rose, N.A. Center for Humans and Nature (2016)
 Conservation Means Behavior. P.W. Schultz. Conserv. Biol., 25 (2011), pp. 1080–1083
 Tiger Temple Accused of Supplying Black Market. Sharon Guynup. Nat Geo Wildlife Watch (2016)
 Tiger Temple Report - The Illegal International Trade of Tigers and Other Protected Species At The Tiger Temple, Thailand. Cee4Life (2016)
 2015 Blood Lions internationally acclaimed documentary (www.bloodlions.org)
 Endangered Baby Dolphin Dies After Swimmers Pass It Around For Selfies. Peter Holley. The Washington Post (2016)
 Saving Serabie Documentary - Winner of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival “Best Wildlife Activism Film 2015”
 Cub petting: Cute and harmful. Earthwise Aware (June 2015)