Discourage and report illegal practices

How would iNat suitably police permits etc.? Presumably there are some people in France who are legally allowed to net Coenagrion mercuriale in order to study its population health - assuring compliance with the law would then require people to upload identifying documents and then have them verified by some qualified moderator - presumably some of the permitted indivudals could be iNatters. This whole line of reasoning on policing iNatter’s behavior for possible infractions verges into the absurd - should an observation taken one foot into a railway’s right-of-way be removed for its law breaking? Whose duty is it to determine where I was standing when I photographed the plant in the right-of-way? iNat should absolutely take steps to minimize things like poaching (they already do), but agonizing over every detail of the law is beyond the scope of this application.


Obviously we don’t want to encourage illegal behavior when it comes to protected species, but I think building a community that educates users about appropriate behavior would be more powerful and less likely to backfire than having an easily accessible label anyone could slap onto an observation. DQA votes and ID disgreements already engender rancor - finding that a stranger annotated one’s observation as “illegal” would be much worse, I think. Especially if the person had a permit or if they were unaware their behavior violated a law. And if someone says they have a permit, how would we obtain evidence of it?

I’d be for iNat as an app/website to raise awareness, like during onboarding or alerting users when they’ve observed a thretened species, or maybe via some sort of content rating, but even that last one could be pretty fraught. Education and awareness, to me, are the more effective approaches.

I couldn’t agree more, although sometimes it’s difficult when you’re emotional. But providing people with information and solutions rather than shaming or scolding (eg when someone kills a snake in their yard) is, I think much more effective. The goal is to change behavior, not make someone feel guilty.


The crucial point is: “capture, disturbance forbidden without special permission”. Researchers and their helpers would have such a permission. Tom, Dick and Harry not.

That Tom, Dick and Harry may not be aware that the species they are capturing may be rare/protected in my view is no excuse. Here on iNat there have been exchanges on how to net dragonflies or catch them with bare hands. Frankly, I would never do that. Even if I managed to capture one, how would I photograph it with just one hand? When I am out shooting dragonflies, I use a long lens – no way I would be able to focus that on a dragonfly held in my other hand.

It would be good if countries streamlined regulations somewhat.

In Germany hornets are a protected species and killing them may cost you up to 50,000 euros. There, only authorized handlers are allowed to retrieve nests from akward places in/around living quarters and relocate them elsewhere.

In Italy, there is no such regulation. Honeybee keepers regularly kill them. set traps and destroy their nests when they find them. Insect sprays specifically earmarked for hornets are freely sold. Whereas two years ago I saw dozens of hornets where I live, this year I just spotted THREE.


If people want to catch dragonflies they sure are prepared and will use the suitable camera or lens for it, it’s not hard to shoot with one hand. If you don’t wanna do it – don’t, but there’s no need to cast a shadow on something others are doing which is legal.


I find that the laws on illegal behaviour in nature are very not well known, so it is “normal” that people are not aware of these laws. For example, almost nobody knows that it is forbidden to handle any amphibian in Switzerland (and in the rest of Europe I think).

One solution could be to create a topic similar to this one on the forum (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a topic like this), listing the environmental laws for each country. Another solution would be to ask the moderators of a country projects to create an article in the project with the mention of these laws and what behaviour to adopt in nature.


The person I was referring to was not a professional or a researcher. I do not trap or handle the wild life I photograph - unless it is a dead specimen.
It would be good if countries streamlined regulations. And perhaps iNat could post some links to laws. Beyond that, I’m not sure what specifically you want iNat to do. This is a platform aimed at Tom Dick and Harry.

There are so many nuances to this that I’m not sure there would be a good way to make it part of iNat. That said, maybe some guidelines for those who feel they need to do something might be useful. For example, I occasionally come across observations of commonly poached plants that have obviously been dug, e.g. someone holding them in their hand roots and all, collection bag dangling from their wrist, placed on a car seat or in a basket, spread out on a table, or rare wildflowers displayed in a vase.

The first thing I look for is if this an isolated case or a pattern. Someone picking wildflowers because they’re pretty and then posting one observation to iNat to get an ID may not know anything about their status or that it is illegal to pick them. In these cases, I try to educate, e.g. let them know that picking this plant requires a permit, maybe with a link to the site where they can apply for one so next time they are at least better informed.

On the other hand, if there are lots of similar observations of medicinal/edible plants obviously harvested/pulled out of the ground, it makes me suspicious that this observer doesn’t actually need any IDs and knows exactly what they’re foraging and maybe is using iNat primarily to share locations with others.

I tend to not ID/comment on these to avoid getting into arguments or tipping them off that somebody is onto them, but I will check the location and plant status. If it’s in a National/State Park and/or a plant that requires a harvest permit, this activity may be illegal but it is not my job to police it. If I think it warrants further investigation, I let a ranger/steward for the area know about it so they can follow up if needed. I have a good list of contacts by now. They can check who has permits and all the rangers I’ve spoken to would be thrilled to catch poachers in the act.


I think a general reminder to people along the lines of, “Do not handle wild animals unless you are a professional and are aware of local laws,” might be a better course of action than trying to enforce an enormous range of local laws that vary even within a single country for the same species.

Similarly, with plant and fungi collection.

It’s nearly impossible to tell what the actual situation is on iNat. As @melodi_96 said, some people don’t know until after they identify the species, in other cases the person may have permission, in other cases there may be other extenuating circumstances.

There are many times I’ve had to handle wildlife to rescue it, wildlife that falls under that “do not harass” category, but I find an individual crossing a busy road, fallen into a pool and drowning, stuck inside a house, etc and have to handle it to get it to a safe place. I’ve even had some species run and climb me or hide under me for safety from other animals, or to keep out of the sun. Without the context another person might say, “You’re harassing X, that’s illegal.”


Personally I think it’s incredibly silly to criminalize the capture of a damselfly. The laws against harassing endangered species make sense for larger vertebrates, but insects like damselflies are threatened by factors like pollution and habitat loss, not people catching them. Catching an endangered insect is so inconsequential that the value of the data obtained by the photographs almost certainly outweighs the miniscule to nonexistant negative impacts.


Unless it is an insect species captured for decorative purposes or to sell in the pet trade. But I highly doubt that is the case for this damselfly.


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.