with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Wildlife Ethics – You Are a Guest in Their Home

Parachuting Cats into Borneo

Baby animal, like these twin fawns, are always fragile and easily frightened. Stay away from them. Photo by Brent VanFossen with a long lens.In the early 1950’s, the Dayak people in Borneo suffered tragically from malaria and the World Health Organization (WHO) helped them by spraying DDT to kill the mosquitoes which carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died, malaria declined, but there were side effects. Among the first was the fact that the roofs of the houses began to fall down. DDT not only killed the mosquitoes, it killed a parasitic wasp that controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The DDT poisoned insects were consumed by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats died and the rats flourished and the population was threatened by outbreaks of sylvatic plaque and typhus. To handle this mess, the World Health Organization felt “obliged to parachute live cats into Borneo”. [Research by the Rocky Mountain Institute (Lovins and Lovins, 1990)]

This illustrates how fragile the food chain and the ecology of the world is. We need to protect it for ourselves and from ourselves. From a photographer’s point of view, the more succesful we are at preserving the natural world, the more opportunities we will have to photograph it.

We believe that each person must listen to their own moral and social value system to determine the extent they must go to protect nature. To help you establish your own policy, we offer ours.

You are guests in their home

Animated graphic of human hand turning into animal paw in a stop sign.A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear Warning Sign, by Lorelle VanFossenNo matter how friendly the wild animals seem, no matter how closely they resemble Disney characters, they are not. You have left the security of your known “human” world of paved streets and boxed-in homes to visit their homes. Remember they are wild. You are not meeting Bambi, Thumper, Mickey Mouse, or Winnie the Poo.

Smell the flowers but don’t smell them to death
Enjoy the meadows but don’t trample them. How long is too long for a guest to “visit”? Fish and house guests both smell after three days. Know when you’ve overstayed your welcome. Take your trash with you when you go and leave the world a better place than you found it.
Do no harm
We feel victimized and angry when we have been burglarized or vandalized and fight back through the political, legal and protective (police) services. Animals have no such recourse.
Everyone is watching
Ethics dictate what you do when you think no one is looking. The attitude that “no one is looking so I can do what I want” is not a license to harass or endanger the animals. Behave as if the world is watching.
Do not disturb
Migrating birds travel thousands of miles to their Arctic nesting grounds and gather in special places along the way to feed. All of their energy is dedicated to this process. Disturbances harass and weaken the birds by interrupting their precious time feeding and resting. Reports abound of photographers throwing things and chasing the birds just to make them fly for a patterns-in-flight shot. They will do that of their own accord. Just be patient.

Return it where you found it

Getting Close
To get close to wildlife without disturbing them, visit places where the animals are used to humans. The animals are used to people so they won’t shy away, allowing you to get closer without harassing them. Please follow all park rules and regulations concerning approaches to wildlife for your protection and theirs.

Professional Wildlife Photographer Darrell Gulin takes care to return this sea urchin back to where he found it. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenSmall animals, especially salamanders, frogs, newts, and other amphibians and insects live in a very small and precarious world. Removal to somewhere else may put them in the path of a predator or separate them from their feeding source and family.

Tide pool creatures are dependent upon a very small ecosystem. Removing them from their life blood – the water – risks their life through dehydration. Keep them wet and put them back in the same tide pool where they were found. This is where they have chosen to live and feed, protected from predators.

Animal harassment is illegal

In most national parks it is a violation of federal law to feed and harass the animals. Check with the state, city and private parks for specific laws and rules. Startling a fawn from its protective hiding place or flushing baby grouse from beneath the scrubs and undergrowth may expose them to a predator. The human scent is easily recognized, and many animals have learned to associate it with food. Don’t touch anything around bird nests and animal dens because your scent may attract a predator. If you do touch anything, put it back as you found it. Cutting or breaking branches around a bird’s nest, for example, can leave the chicks exposed to the elements and predators. Chasing and harassing an animal causes it to use energy which may be needed for feeding, protection, fighting and mating. Keep them wild for your safety and our future.

Don’t feed the wildlife

Sign restricting the feeding of Arctic Ground Squirrels in Denali, Alaska. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenTeach an animal that an outreached hand means food and they will return time and time again, ignoring their natural food sources. Human food contains salts and chemicals unnatural to their diet and can poison, harm or kill them. That the outstretched hand or feeding the animals brings them close so you can touch them is no excuse. If you haven’t seen a deer before, stand there and watch it. Don’t touch it or feed it just because it’s cute. It’s against the law. Reaching out to feed it or pet it can result in our getting bitten or attacked. The result is that the animal is either captured and killed or relocated and punished in some way. The human is rarely blamed for their actions.

Don’t feed the wildlife Part II

There are almost no bears left in the continental United States. Human invasion into their territory has pushed them out. The fear of confrontation resulted in their eviction from their traditional lands. Yet, bears are being reported entering these long dominated human lands again. Why?

Photographer Ann Smart gets upclose and personal with an inch worm. 
Photo by Lorelle VanFossenConsciously or unconsciously, we are inviting the bear back. Being careless with our trash, loose lids on our garbage cans, and the increase in park attendance all shout, “Hey, you are invited to the party! Come join us!” We issue the invitation, then resent them when they show up. Studies show a bear can smell food over long distances even inside a tightly closed cooler. Keep your food locked in your car, pack up your garbage, and if you live near wildlife areas, take steps to keep your trash from becoming breakfast for wildlife. Remember, animals invading your garbage learn to associate you with food. Don’t rely upon the animal to have the brains to stay away. Don’t invite them to visit you.

No picture is worth the safety of the subject

Game farms and “rent-an-animal” programs are great opportunities for photographers to get close to the animals. Frequent facilities with high standards of care and humane treatment of the animals. Demand humane treatment and report all abuse cases, even if you are in doubt.

Our intrusion into an animal’s space can result in harassment and damage in many ways. We may disrupt their mating or nesting process. We may interfere with their feeding. Just as you would protect your child from harm, we need to be parents to the wildlife. No photograph is worth the safety of the animals.

Harassing animals is not the only felony you can commit. Take care not to disturb or destroy plants, especially wildflowers. One footprint can crush a budding bloom so that it might not reappear again for years, maybe even decades. Pay attention to warning signs and take care where you place your feet.

Don’t give photographers a bad name

All images of captive animals should be labeled as such, whether or not the editor also decides to do so. Photographs of tame or captive animals are fine only if they don’t convey false information.

Be Wildlife Aware

Marmot screaming, Olympic National Park, photo by Brent VanFossenWe watched with amazement as Olympic Marmots crawled up inside car engines seeking tasty rubber water hoses and the sugary taste of antifreeze at a trail head deep within the Olympic National Park. While help for those who return from hiking to find their cars’ radiators and transmissions bone dry is only 25 miles away, it is also 6,000 feet in the mountains above sea level and help.

A marmot feeds on water hoses inside a car engine in the Olympic National Park, photo by Lorelle VanFossenIf you do spend time in the mountains or areas where wildlife consider your vehicle good eating or investigating, consider investing in a removable cover to protect the underside of your vehicle. At a minimum, bring extra water hoses, antifreeze, and water, along with some tools, to repair any damage the wildlife may inflict.

It is said that famous nature photographers, Eliot Porter and Helen Longest-Slaughter, are extreme examples of protecting nature, of which we might take note. Porter is said to have never even moved a leaf, and Longest-Slaughter will only photograph “wild” animals in wild places, avoiding game farms and captive animal ranches. Well known author and photographer, Bryan Petersen, is a preacher’s son. He tells of learning at his father’s knee that God gave man dominion over the world and it is man’s job to fight the anarchy and evil works of the devil. So if a leaf is in the way – it might be the work of the devil, and moving it will only be putting things right. Set a standard for yourself and keep it, no matter what the extreme is.

Animated graphic of a squirrel runningA few careless photographers can give us all a bad name, and park service rangers and other caretakers may be unwilling to share information and access if a photographer has stressed the animals in the past. Be conscious of the effects of your actions so other will have the chance to return.

Witness It: Stop It

If you witness people harassing the wildlife, make it your responsibility to stop them. Don’t stand by and wait for someone else to respond. When you visit a national park or any protected nature area, you have an obligation to obey the rules and regulations. You also have a responsibility to stop others from disobeying those rules. It only takes one person to ruin the experience for everyone and to restrict future access to these locations.

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