Discourage and report illegal practices

Maybe we can encourage people who do have permits to write in the notes section about it (edit: not the details of the permit, just the fact that you need one for what you are doing) so other people who don’t know the laws won’t see the photo and assume it okay for them to do also.

I need to do that for this bird in hand observation https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/88403654 I’ll probably link to the resulting research paper too.

edit: I updated the notes on that observation


There are currently caracal kittens at Kirstenbosch.
What the National Botanical Garden posts on FB - is very carefully explained - known photographers using very long lenses - Keep Your Distance.
The obs on iNat do not have that health warning


There are many reasons a photo might appear to be an illegal activity and yet might not be. Birds photo’d in hand that were legally captured in a mist net for permitted banding purposes. Birds in hand that struck a window at a residence or were roadkill. Animals that have been rescued to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator. Species that were captured and handled as part of authorized research projects. Documentation of law enforcement actions involving illegally trafficked organisms. I don’t think we need to be providing permit details for all of these events, although a simple statement in the underutilized Notes section regarding the circumstances would be desirable.


To be fair, handling an insect can also be detrimental. If it is an endangered species it may not mate or lay fertile eggs.

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Don’t forget that handling anything has risks of transferring bacteria or pathogens.


A post was merged into an existing topic: iOS app tends to crash to home screen since updating to iOS 15

IMO, handling wildlife should almost always be avoided when possible. Besides the potential psychological consequences, there is a chemical and bacterial world almost entirely beyond human senses. Especially in the plant and insect realm. Our migrations around the planet are wreaking havoc on this “world.” There is so much yet to be understood about this ecology of reactions and relationships. And isn’t that how a lot of plagues start? :)


COVID should focus our minds. A virus humans had not met before.

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Most insects have such short life cycles and high reproductive rates that even an individual being harmed or killed is not what I would call detrimental to the population. You could realistically walk up to a pond, kill 3 damselflies but have a net positive impact on the population because you scared away a bird that was about to eat 4 damselflies.


I actually wonder if iNat IDs “could” even be regarded as verified records of particular species to a legal standard, given that the community ID system’s content independent, based only on ID votes, which can change ID over time in principle. If that’s correct, it may mean there’s no way even in principle for a user to be judged as breaking a law (e.g. re: endangered species) based only on iNat photos (unless there was an independent assessment).

Potentially if that were true it may mean iNat has slightly more flexibility to consider some more forms of education/caution in certain circumstances they could prioritize/define. If any, I’d suggest prioritizing reducing behaviors which can cause the most direct human and/or wildlife harm. For example, one published article noted probably 100-100s of global iNat observer-photos of bats with pathogen risks being handled without proper protective clothing. The article wasn’t blaming the site or anyone, but discussing it as a risk for bat-observers to avoid.

I agree that not every “policy violation” would be possible or worthwhile to regulate. I also agree it wouldn’t make sense for iNat to report users, the nature of the platform and it’s role would be more suited to informing or cautioning at best. I don’t think users commenting to observers alone would be feasible or effective to change things though (and too many photos). Some advising/education may be more the role or external organizations arguably too (vs. iNat), although one issue is those rarely reach or are heeded by observers. The particular bat issue is also difficult to end because literature has recorded it even as an issue among parts of bat research itself (despite that they are aware of advisories against). I found many examples like the article, by searching Rhinolophus, one of the most high risk groups.

Considering the issue more generally for cautions like the bat example, what about some kind of icon/symbol, or DQA option (or field) which simply says “caution approaching or touching” or “do not approach or touch” and could be used for any species? It could intentionally be written to lack any specific definition or reference to particular wildlife or policies. It could be considered mere user “suggestion” “recommendation” or “information.” Similar to how some people already warn each other about approaching aggressive animals.

Lastly, I agree that users shouldn’t be blamed or overly questioned about photos, and if they were they’d be more likely to delete them. All photos have an informational value by remaining on iNat., at least once already uploaded.

I’ll vote for this request, but I mean for the discourage part, not the report part.


I guess the problem I have with this is what defines “legally”? Or, for that matter ethically? Permits aside, iNat is a worldwide platform and what is legal or ethical in one country is the opposite in other countries. One example that comes to mind is when I was in a cave inhabited by bats and the local indigenous people were throwing rocks at them with the intention to kill to eat. At that location it’s not illegal for the indigenous people to kill bats. Their culture means that it’s not even unethical. I didn’t participate, but I did take photos. In some countries it’s both illegal and unethical to throw big rocks at bats. In some countries it might even be illegal to photograph them. Is it “right” for us to impose “our” ethics or legalities onto the peoples of different countries? I personally don’t think so and therefore a DQA “warning” might even be insulting. If there is a DQA thingy for that then it’s, in many ways, demeaning to their culture and suggesting that what they’re doing is wrong when for them it’s a normal part of life, not illegal, not unethical. I do not want to impose my views onto their practices and kinda shame the way of life that they’ve lived for thousands of years. That’s not my place and I’d hate for iNat to become some kind of moderator for what is “legal” or “ethical” based on MY ethics or the legality of what I can do in my country or a country I can visit. iNat’s primary purpose is to engage people with nature, I think. Not to impose views, “educate” local peoples, or shame them for doing something that although you or I may disagree is entirely appropriate within their culture.


Your views would seem to fit better as a response to the topic itself than my comment. If you see my only recommendation was an option for “caution approaching or handling” when there’s danger to people or animals, yet, where the latter part isn’t part of a specified definition. It can be applied to any species/circumstance (via voting), similar to a field. Nothing about legality or ethics was mentioned, it was based on risks (which also aren’t specified in a definition).

In the case I mentioned, Rhinolophus are a risk for sars-related coronaviruses including those with pandemic potential, which has been noted by all countries which include those and related bats, so isn’t country specific. The risk itself also doesn’t depend on a law or country. Actually though I don’t know and wasn’t implying handling bats etc. is necessarily “illegal.” It might not be. I don’t think unethical fits either. Call it a suggestion to avoid risks to self, others, and wildlife (bats can get pathogens from people too). Some organizations do make recommendations and advise using protective measures (PPE).

In research proposals, researchers typically specify they’ll follow strict PPE guidelines when bat collecting or observing in caves (the cave air/dust can also carry bat pathogens). So, individuals who most need to know are probably amateur bat cave tourists (at least in regions of pandemic spillover risk). Yet it’s a known phenomenon that some researches also don’t wear gloves, etc. when handling, which seems harder to break the pattern of.

I wonder if it would be useful for someone to create a field, unless another option could be added, to say “caution approaching and handling.” This could just as applicably also be applied to a grizzly bear or rattlesnake as horseshoe bats. It’s not implying judgement toward the user. No option may be perfect, but neither is using no options.

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After scrolling back and reading the comments again, and in addition to your reply, I concede that I may have misinterpreted your comment that I replied to. However, I still think that adding a DQA option could be insensitive and almost impossible to implement in a way that respects the laws and ethics of other countries and cultures.

I disagree with the statement “In research proposals, researchers typically specify they’ll follow strict PPE guidelines when bat collecting or observing in caves (the cave air/dust can also carry bat pathogens).” That’s not a thing that is required or typical in every country or institution in the world and is specific, I think, to your experience or institution or country or etc. Research proposals do not “typically” require that, they typically require it in your part of the world, experience or research institution. That’s cool and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not necessarily typical everywhere. Besides, using this example, “cave tourists” don’t necessarily need permission from a board. They’re not conducting a research experiment, they’re making observations.

A field might be ok, and would I think certainly be better than a DQA field, but what’s wrong with just commenting on the observation?

I’d “correct” as follows:

I didn’t say what kind of iNat option. I mentioned fields, DQA, other symbols, or buttons. I don’t know. So the idea doesn’t depend on DQA.

You keep mentioning respecting country laws and ethics. I’ve explained, there are multiple things in my comment. The bat issue is an example, not what the iNat option would be specifically based on. In my idea, it would only be identifier perception, i.e. it could in theory be applied to any species anywhere, via votes for and against. The suggested meaning was risk, e.g. pathogens, animal aggression, etc., but even that wouldn’t be in the definition. In short, no specific definition, avoids issues like defining misuse. Also, I phrased it like a helpful caution suggestion for the observer, opposite of blaming the observer.

Commenting to observers is okay, but there’s too many photos to comment on, comments aren’t always heeded/understood, and even comments could “displease” users (marking/saying anything could).

And, finally about the specific bat example. Note that I’m just correcting this as a separate fact of the matter, it’s not the definition/specific basis of the above idea:

I’m specifically referring to horseshoe and related bats, specifically in pathogen spillover zones, e.g. primarily in Asia but including additional continents. Literature for/in all those locations does note the risks. Not only that, but advised about in organizational bodies. Beyond that, I don’t know how/if it’s “enforced” per se. It’s not insensitive to mention it. Note that if there were a pathogen spillover, it doesn’t matter where, or what laws, to occur, and that the risk is high enough to be a general (global) advisory.

I didn’t say research proposals require that, I said researchers making proposals (in such areas) typically state or imply they use proper PPE doing bat sampling. At minimum, they’re aware of the advisories (having had made them themselves). Also, why shouldn’t they want to protect themselves? Separately, there’s a known issue where some researchers (in general, not only iNat) don’t use PPE (in multiple continents), while being aware of the PPE advisories. This is all documented.

“Typically require it in your part of the world.” No, I live in the US (which lacks horseshoe bats), and I’m referring primarily to Asia/Africa/Europe. See discussion section here.

“Cave tourists don’t need permission from a board.” I didn’t say they did. I meant that non-researchers observing horseshoe bats via “cave tourism” are less likely to have heard about/know PPE advisories, and so would be most relevant to educate (vs. researchers already know).

Here’s the article that mentioned iNat and bats. First sentence of the abstract: “The general guidance is, and has always been, that handling bats should be avoided, particularly by the general public.” Note that they even refer to all bat taxa globally there.

That’s all I have on that to avoid it going off topic, unless people have further comments on what iNat could do/add.


Me, yesterday: not touching tiny critter to avoid disturbance.
Logging company, today: chopping down whole area.

I believe if we focus on a relevant level, disturbance it is a question of magnitude, of scale, of “sig figs”.

Personally I prefer to work as non-invasive as possible. But if I want to focus on environmental issues, the occasional “iNatter-handling-one-specimen-of-endangered-species-with-care-for-taking-a-few-pics” doesn’t rank very high on my problem list.


I only keep mentioning respecting country laws and ethics because I don’t see how that can be addressed on iNat in a workable manner. I agree with you on most points but I don’t agree with things like “you shouldn’t handle or photograph that organism” (I know you didn’t say that explicitly, I’m paraphrasing). I’m not arguing with you, your opinion is just as valid as mine or anyone else’s… I just cant support “reporting illegal practices” (and I know those are not your words) because what is illegal here is not illegal elsewhere, and as others have mentioned even if it is illegal, people do have permits and I see no reason for them to disclose that or provide documentation of their permit (which invariably expose personal information). The only reason I replied to your comments in particular, and not other comments, is not to cause offense or start a needless argument but because your comments raise points in a detailed manner.

As for PPE and whether it’s a grant requirement or something else maybe that’s better discussed in a different topic

I don’t buy that argument. Every life matters. Especially when humans (vehicles, pesticides, etc) are contributing to MAJOR insect declines globally.
One insect (maybe the one you injure) can be responsible for laying thousands of eggs too.


I agree that insects are a rather disposable life form. However, in this Anthropocene era, there are legitimate concerns about insect populations. If a bird eats the damselflies, so be it. At this time, I feel humans should minimise their physical interactions with insects or any other life form.


How is that compatible with engaging with nature?

Edit: I think this topic has gone off course. The problem I have with this thread is reporting illegal practices (Discourage and report). My point all along is it’s VERY hard to decide what an “illegal practice” actually is. What is legal here might not be legal there. Do we really want to bog down observations by labeling things legal or illegal when there are probably very few people on here to say what is legal and illegal anyway? That’s just discourages observations


Taking a photo usually involves no physical interaction with nature. So it is still possible to engage with minimal contact. I agree with you second point, and have tried to make it (badly) in some of my previous comments. In Canada, there are different laws for each level of government, and it is hard to sort out which is applicable in any instance. Including the World increases that complexity - I have no idea what the conservation laws are in Nigeria, or whether they align with other West African nations. I also do not feel it is the responsibility of iNat to police observations based on laws around the world.