Seth W. asks:
What obligations do wildlife photographers have (i) to behave ethically when in the field and (ii) to promote conservation?
Great question Seth.
First, wildlife ethics. I remember when I first started out in wildlife photography about 15 years ago, I always knew that it was important to behave ethically.
It seems simple, yet we see wildlife transgressions almost everyday on social media, such as baiting, harassing, or getting too close to a wild animal. It’s wonderful that more and more people are enjoying nature and our national parks, but we have to do better to ensure encounters with wildlife are benign. We need more education, and in certain situations, more enforcement to avoid the worst possible outcomes, where wild animals pay the cost with their lives for our poor behavior.
As wildlife photographers we must set the best possible example by always behaving ethically, putting the welfare of the animal first, and speaking up when we see a transgression. Remember, no shot is worth causing harm or putting the animal or other humans at risk.
Wildlife ethics are mostly black and white, with a few shades of grey. To help everyone understand how to behave, we’ve put together this guide on how to photograph wildlife ethically.
Now on to the second part of your question, conservation.
It’s an area where my thinking and behavior has certainly involved. In my early days as wildlife photographer, I was just there to enjoy the moment and appreciate the wild. I didn’t really think much about conservation.
Over time, I started piecing things together and I realized that many of my favorite animals and favorite places are either threatened or at risk of extinction. I started to learn more about the impact of development and climate change near wildlife hotspots, and the challenges facing communities who live next to amazing wildlife.
Knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibly. I realized that I could no longer be silent and sit on the sidelines of important conservation campaigns. Conservation is tough work, but for me there is no other choice. In many ways, I feel like our planet is at an inflection point, and unless we act, we are going to lose the few remaining wild places that we have left.
Therefore, I would encourage everyone, whether seasoned wildlife photographer or amateur, to promote conservation. There are so many wildlife conservation issues that need more awareness and more urgent action.
We must wield our cameras with purpose, to tell the difficult stories, to advocate for change, to inspire bold action. With conviction, we will speak to the heart and minds to inspire the change we hope to see in our world.
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