Wildlife Photography – Do you have a Code of Ethics?

I have been meaning to write about this topic for quite some time but haven’t had the time. However, the other day, a friend of mine posted his own personal “Photography Code of Ethics”. His list is everything I believe in and so I asked his permission to use his list; plus it saves me time from making one, which I appreciate. Bill is a wonderful wildlife photographer having been featured in National Geographic magazine and other media outlets as well as winning several photography awards. His photos are terrific, please take a look at his website – Bill Bickle Photography

Ontario Provincial Parks also has an article on Ethics if you would like to read it. Here is the link Ontario Parks Ethics.

You see people all the time who go to great lengths to get “that” photo. I’m surprised at times who I see doing questionable acts by putting either themselves or the animal at risk. Quite often I am shocked that I know some of these people. I think they get caught up in the moment or their adrenalin gets them going, I don’t know.

We have all seen and/or heard the stories about people trying to get too close to bison at Yellowstone National Park or standing 10 feet from a grizzly in Banff, Alberta to get a photo. The stories go on and on.

My husband and I have seen many situations where some of these codes are not followed and believe me, it does not turn out well for the animals. Humans seem to get away with whatever they want to do with no regard to the animals involved. We have so many stories of wildlife being put down because they are a “nuisance” when in actual fact the people breaking the rules are the true nuisances as their actions resulted in the animal becoming habituated.

I am not going to get on my high horse but I will share some situations that we have personally experienced. These experiences have certainly shaped the way I think and how I do my photography. I’m going to provide some examples of what we have encountered during our travels.

Years ago there was a family of foxes living in a particular area of Algonquin Park. There was the Old Fox, his mate and a passel of young ones (kits). They were almost always in the same large area and one day we were by the road photographing them as they played. I knew approximately where the dens were but I had never, and would never, go to either of them but this lady who joined us did. She asked me if I wanted to go with her and I said “No, I’m good, I don’t believe in bothering them at their homes”. That, to me, is their safe spot. So people might say, well they are just animals but would you want people walking into your home to stare?

People were also feeding/baiting these animals for photos. One day we stopped to photograph the Old Fox and he was trying to climb this small tree. Another couple were at this spot photographing him; they had hung bacon over the branches of the tree to encourage a “better” photo. People were feeding the foxes so much that it got to the point that if they heard a car/truck door slam, they would run towards the vehicle.

Stand Off . the turtle won’t leave her nest and the fox won’t leave the turtle

Long story short, the foxes became habituated which is not a good thing. Eventually the Parks Staff took the Old Fox to a sanctuary as he was not in good health, having been hit by a car among other things…….and the rest of the family was also taken away. Below is a short Blog post I wrote on the Old Fox as he died earlier this year.

https://trumstravels.com/2020/03/10/the-old-fox-dies/

Below is the old guy and one of his kits having a drink.

Pretty sad story.

In 2016 there was a young Black bear cub hanging around the campgrounds in Algonquin Park. He may have been about 2 years old. One day we had been out canoeing all day and came back to our site to sit and have a beer. I felt someone watching me and I looked up and he was about 20 feet away by our firepit. He wandered up and down the rows of campsites 2 or 3 times a day looking for food. He was not scared of humans at all. I felt bad for him, in fact, my husband said that little bear had the saddest eyes he had ever seen.

He would drop by at our campsite almost every day we were there and then move on to walk through other campsites. Now some of these photos seem very close but keeping in mind my husband and I have very long (big) lenses. We do not have to be close. Although when he came into our site, we were kind of close, through no fault of ours. This occurred in the month of June.

Waiting for dinner
Here’s looking at you kid

During our June trip, this same little guy also followed us on the bike trail. We had started biking towards Rock Lake and we encountered an older couple walking along the trail towards us; the bear was following behind them. We didn’t want to go past him so we got off our bikes and walked back the way we came along with the couple, bear in tow. After a few minutes we stopped and made all kinds of noise and he took off. Sadly, this same year we went back in the autumn to camp for 3 weeks and one of the Park Wardens told us that he had been put down.

Stay Away!

I was told that if bears are sighted near humans, or people complain about them, they have a tag put in their ear. If they are tagged 3 times, that’s it for them. I don’t know for sure if this is true but if anyone knows it to be a fact, I would appreciate the information. So long story short, don’t go tattling on the bears.

In 2018 we were camping in Algonquin Park and there was a Mom Black Bear and her four cubs, yes four, we couldn’t believe it. Anyways, she was hanging around Lake of Two Rivers campground and Mew Lake campground. One of the cubs (below) was so cute and tiny. We were driving into the campground and they were crossing the road.

In the case of this particular family, I was told that the Mom Bear was put down, one of the cubs was run over by a car and the other three were taken away.

Four little cubs all trying to climb the tree

But you know it’s not just photographers that can be the problem; some campers have dirty campsites and by that I mean they leave their food and garbage out, etc which is an attractant for wildlife. The adult bears become habituated and teach their cubs and then they are all running around the campgrounds looking for Pringles and wieners. In our opinion, Park Wardens could do a far better job of enforcing the cleanliness of campsites. And people in general could use a little more common sense and consideration.

In Algonquin Park there are a couple of spots where Pine Martens regularly hang out. They are super cute but again, people are feeding them. A friend of ours told us that one guy was caught feeding the Pine Marten and was fined by a Warden (this year). We were at this same location the next day and we spotted a woman feeding him. My husband told her about the guy that was fined for feeding him, the outcome, she was not very nice to us after that and kept feeding the pine martin anyway.

So as I mentioned, it’s not just some photographers that show no respect for wildlife, it can be campers, hikers, canoeists, tourists and the list goes on.

We have been to Alberta a couple of times in the last few years and things are no different there. We were driving somewhere around the Banff area and there was a bear feeding on the side of the road. You would not believe the number of people who stopped to get a photo, which is understandable. Getting a photo is one thing but did they have to get in the ditch with the bear? Standing so close that some of the people could have touched him. These are wild animals regardless of their “tame” behaviour. They like to have their personal space, just like we do. And in fact they NEED their personal space.

Another time we were photographing a moose; he was standing by the side of a road, another gentleman was with us. We were quite a ways back from the moose and all of a sudden a car came from the other direction. They spotted the moose and stepped on the gas coming to a screeching halt just short of the moose. The moose took off into the forest and these people piled out of their car and chased him into the woods. If they had shown some respect, they would not have upset the moose, or us, and we all could have enjoyed the moment. I don’t know what happened to them or the moose; the other gentleman and Clint and I got into our cars and left. But you would be surprised, or maybe not, how many times we have watched people literally chase after the animal or try to “sneak” up on them to get a photo. Seriously Dude, that bear or moose or whoever, know you are there. You aren’t fooling them. And they are wild animals, they don’t know your intentions.

Now some might say we aren’t exactly following the rules by taking photos of these animals when we have a good idea of where they hang out. There may be some truth to that, however, we drive down roads and hike trails and hope to see wildlife but we don’t encourage them by baiting or invading their nests/dens. If you get familiar with an area you can have a good idea of where they might hang out. My husband and I do our best to stay back and as mentioned, we both have long lenses. I know the trips we have taken to Alberta and British Columbia, we have quite often sat in our truck and taken photos from the windows. You see lots of bears out there on the side of the road but a shot from a truck/car window can be just as good. You can also book a tour and go with guides who know where to go and how close to get.

The lady who was feeding the pine marten told us she would keep feeding him and the birds. Now, in my opinion, feeding birds is not a horrible idea. We have several bird feeders in our backyard. I don’t think feeding the chickadees, grey jays, blue jays is wrong. I look at it this way, these birds are not going to be hit by a car when they run out on the road looking for food, they aren’t going to be put down because they are a nuisance and they do not pose a threat to anyone.

I also want to mention, it’s not just wildlife we should have respect for. We have seen some crazy things when people are trying to get photos of landscapes, buildings, whatever. We were in Victoria, British Columbia last year. We went down to the Fishermen’s Wharf where they have the floating homes. This is a beautiful spot. Fishermen’s Wharf

We stayed on the dock to get a photo or two of these really cool homes. Some tourists however were walking up to peoples homes, standing on their decks, sitting in their chairs, climbing over railings, etc… to get a picture. Just crazy and disrespectful behaviour.

We have seen people go onto private property to get a photo of a dam or cascades or some other point of interest. Some properties have signs so when Clint and I see signs “No Trespassing”, “Private Property”, “Keep Out” etc, we pay attention and we respect the signs. Should I assume for those that don’t respect the personal space/property of others that it is ok for me to wander through their yard, stand on their deck and do as I wish in the pursuit of a photograph. Just something else to think about.

At the end of the day, everyone loves to see wildlife. It’s a thrill for me to call out “There’s a moose!” and grab our cameras but it is our responsibility to take care of our wildlife, respect them and allow them room to live in their own environment without being hassled. Same goes for people’s property.

It appears that in todays digital social media world it is more important to get those likes and immediate recognition for your picture than to be respectful of our precious wildlife and fellow humans.

I would love to hear comments or stories of any situations you have encountered.

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