Earlier in September, a moose drowned in Lake Champlain, Vermont, because of tourists. Not directly: people didn’t go up and kill it. Rather, it died as a result of what people did, or didn’t do. After swimming from the New York shore to Grand Isle, in the middle of the lake, the moose came ashore. Unfortunately, it came onto the island near a road and tourists, excited at the sight of a moose so close, got out of their cars and started snapping photos with their phones. Sadly, the commotion frightened the moose back in to the lake. Tired from its swim over from New York, the moose didn’t have enough energy left to cope with wind and waves and drowned shortly thereafter.
This is hardly the first instance of people frightening, or even causing the death of wildlife. And close encounters with animals can be dangerous for people, too. Every year, it seems, someone is injured taking selfies too close to bison at Yellowstone. Earlier this year, a man in India was killed by an injured bear when he tried to take a selfie with the animal. National Geographic recently posted a video of an open safari vehicle that got way too close to a leopard.
Irresponsible behavior isn’t limited to human-animal interactions. With disturbing frequency, we see stories of people who die in reckless attempts at capturing a unusual selfie. Also this month, while attempting to take a selfie at the edge of a cliff, an Israeli teenager fell more than 800 feet to his death from the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park. When I was at Horseshoe Bend, outside Page, Arizona, a while back, I was amazed at the number of people leaping in the air at the edge of thousand foot drop to the Colorado River. They wanted to get an airborne selfie, but a muffed landing could result in tragedy.
“What are people thinking?” you might wonder.
People generally aren’t endangering wildlife on purpose. They don’t know any better or, sometimes, they just don’t think. After all, seeing a buffalo or bear or moose can be pretty exciting!
In one of the television news stories about the moose, nature photographer and photojournalist Rob Swanson sums up a smart and sensitive approach to observing wildlife. “My mantra in nature photography is observe, don’t harass,” he says. With smart phones, you have to get really close to wildlife to get a good photo and, “just because you can get close doesn’t mean you should get close.”
As nature photographers, we have a responsibility to preserve and protect the very nature we photograph. We have to set a good example in our own practices and be willing to speak up about ethical nature photography when we get the chance.
NANPA’s Ethics Committee “helps promote information on ethical field practices and truth in captioning and also works with the NANPA Board to respond to ethical issues related to NANPA and nature photography.” Committee members put a lot of time, thought and effort into crafting the revisions that updated NANPA’s Position Statement on Ethical Field Practices earlier this year. The 14 practices lay out sensible and pretty easy-to-follow guidelines for interacting with nature and wildlife. You can even get business card-sized copies for easy reference if you get a chance to talk to a camera club or lead a field workshop.
Being an ethical nature photographer isn’t rocket science. To a large extent, it’s just using a bit of common sense. Unfortunately, in the instant world of social media, selfies and smart phones, common sense may not be as abundant as we’d wish.