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Our responsibility as nature & wildlife photographers
As nature and wildlife photographers we are privileged to experience a side of nature that many people do not get to see. We have seen grizzly cubs frolicking and playing, great horned owlets learning how to navigate their environment, snowy owls resting in the dunes before they begin their hunt for food, red fox kits exploring their world, juvenile skimmers learning how to skim, a moose cow guarding her young calf, a cheetah mom desperately looking for prey and so many more wondrous experiences too vast to list here. Each time we are out with our cameras and get to witness and photograph the beauty, the simplicity, the wisdom and sometimes even the cruelty that is nature we realize that it is a privilege and we have a responsibility to do no harm. As the hikers saying goes “take only photographs leave only footprints”.
Living in such a populous area as Long Island the threat to wildlife is great. Loss of habitat and food has already put an unjust burden on the wild that live here with us. When we change an animal’s behavior for our own gain or from our own ignorance we do even more damage to that animal. Feeding wildlife is especially damaging to them. When wildlife begins to see people as a food source they often lose their fear of people and can become a nuisance and aggressive, many times they are destroyed because of it. The National Park Service describes feeding wildlife “as a form of animal cruelty” No photograph no matter how spectacular is worth harming the subject in the process. Even with good intentions feeding an animal that you think is unable to hunt for it is still detrimental for them. If you feel the animal is in jeopardy call a wildlife rehabilitator, they are trained in assessing, catching if necessary and providing for the animal in a way that will allow it to be released back into the wild when possible and when not providing an environment for that animal to live. Here are a few Long Island rescues to keep as reference
The fragile balance that nature has struck up is already in grave jeopardy. Let’s not, especially as nature and wildlife photographers, do anything to add to that. Instead our images can serve as the vehicle to enlighten, inspire and educate others to enjoy and protect our natural world!
What about baiting?
It’s not our job or place to decide your values; many wildlife photographers bait their subjects, especially owls and raptors, to create better and more plentiful photo opportunities. Some photographic workshops employ the practice of baiting to ensure their paid clients repeatable behavior. But we need to stop and think; does this non-natural practice change the animals behavior in a way that causes them stress or harm? If the answer is yes or even maybe than the next question should be, is the photograph really worth the price of doing harm to our subject? We hope for you, as it is for us, the answer to that question is no. Let’s not risk the wellbeing of the wildlife by baiting them for the sake of getting a better photograph. Instead challenge yourself to become a better photographer and achieve those amazing images through skill, patience, perseverance and a little bit of luck. Always we must think first of the animals welfare. North American Nature Photography Association establishes the following guidelines for ethical behavior NANPA Ethical Practices .The Nature Photographers Network goes even further with their code of ethics found here Nature Photographers Network Code of Conduct specifically listing avoiding the practice of baiting.
Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau