Ethics and Etiquette for Wildlife Watching and Photography

Based on a Project of the Colorado Urban Wildlife Photo Club

Observing wildlife can be one of life’s greatest pastimes.  It is an experience available to everyone in every place, including our urban environment.  Knowing how to find and safely approach wildlife with a respect for the animal’s needs is the most important objective of the wildlife watcher.  Take the advice offered below and enjoy your adventure with wildlife.First and foremost, NO observation or photograph is worth endangering the animal or yourself.

Be Prepared

Learn as much as you can about the animal species and habitat of the wildlife you wish to photograph or observe.  Information is available through many sources, including libraries, state wildlife agencies, classes, public television, books and magazines.

  • Learn the behavior of your subject and be aware that some species and some individuals are more accustomed to humans than are others
  • Stress in animals is not easily recognized, learn the warning signs

Understand what you and your equipment can safely and realistically do

Learn how to use your equipment and be aware of its limitations, whether it’s a camera and lens, binoculars or a spotting scope

  • Learn from the experts how to get the photos you want.  Experienced photographers who are capable teachers can help you avoid mistakes and brief you on tools of the trade
  • Specialized camera lenses may be necessary for some photographs.  Many professional images are made with long and fast lenses and it may not be safe or sensible to try for some photos with less sophisticated equipment
  • Practice using specialized equipment or techniques.  Zoos are excellent places to see what your equipment can do

Plan ahead and anticipate your needs

  • Inquire in advance about opportunities and restrictions in the areas to be visited.  State and National Parks, for instance, often have regulations about interacting with wildlife

Be Responsible

  • Know the rules and regulations of the public areas you will visit
  • Set a good example
  • Report any violations you see to the proper authorities
  • Respect the rights and wishes of landowners
  • Ask permission before entering private property

It’s your environment – protect it!

  • Be aware of the cumulative effect of human presence.  One person observing an animal may be tolerated, but a large group may be too many
  • Avoid drawing undue attention to animals and plants, as others may not be as careful as you
  • Be responsible for your pets, children and companions.  It is best to leave your dog at home.  Regardless of how well mannered it is, wildlife will feel threatened
  • Keep the environment pristine – carry a small bag for your trash and pick up any litter you find

Allow animals to carry on their lives without disruption

  • Animals should not be handled.  Vegetation should not be damaged or manipulated for a view or a photograph
  • Calls or baits may endanger your subject.  (The law may control bait and lures)
  • Wildlife have natural foods to meet their nutritional needs and normally you should not feed them.  Bird feeders can be used in an urban environment, but if feeding in winter, make sure you continue through spring
  • Be unobtrusive.  Making wildlife react to you can cause it stress.  Gauge the length of time spent near an animal and leave before you cause it stress
  • Even the most common wildlife should never be chased or harassed
  • Nests or dens should never be disturbed