Discourage and report illegal practices

I didn’t say much of that. My suggestion was to be completely permissive about what observers can do, as long as following iNat policy. I meant they can* photograph. I’d never heard photographing is illegal, but wasn’t referring to legality, only to risk/caution. Anyway, suppose my idea was made into a Field. I haven’t fully thought about what the Field’s title/text would be, which could affect things. But I meant the Field would function equivalent to a comment, a faster and easier way to say the same thing. Note that the site wouldn’t be endorsing specific votes on Fields or Annotations, those would only reflect user choice.

Secondly, I stated the field would be almost completely lacking any “definition,” and be clearly specified/clarified to be as subjective as a comment. The Field wouldn’t imply or be based on “illegal” things.

On the one hand, I view this topic as a question over whether to do anything. One view is nothing should be commented to observers (at least not on Observations, vs. if iNat had related education resources elsewhere). Some users do make comments related to some of the issues which were brought up. Given that, I see adding a Field would be nearly identical. It’s still only a choice to even use. In principle, users could disagree with given specific circumstances others mark the Field, and for example delete deselect it.

Overall, I think if anything were to be implemented to give users/observers education or suggestions (e.g. cautions), it would be most effective, accepted, and abided by if it were added by iNat, instead of a field by non-staff users (although I understand multiple perspectives on that, such as that this isn’t the best place for that). A field maybe isn’t a good second option either. That’s all I can think to add about this.

I agree with the education part.

On the other side, I have an observation of an endangered rabbit in a box (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/49807662) and it was actually a ‘rescue’. As I comment on the observation, the neighbour’s cat brought it, it was late, I was afraid that he was hurt. The rabbit slept at my place and in the morning I brought it to a place with more rabbits when I could assess that he was in a better shape than it looked at first. Otherwise, I would have called the environment agent and they pick them up.

So, please not be too quick to judge when you see an animal on an enclosure. They may be there temporarily, or in the way to the rehabilitation center.


I disagree. Taking a photo or even being present in an area can be quite the disturbance to many animals (and certainly to plants being stepped on to get to the observation, etc.). Just because there is no physical contact, does not mean there is minimal interaction or benign disturbance. As an academic, I need approval from an IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) for any project involving research that changes the behavior of a study species. True, observation-based studies often have a lower bar to clear, but they are reviewed nonetheless because of the potential impacts.

While we’re taking pictures of insects or lizards or whatever, and stalking around them, casting shadows, etc., their stress hormones may be spiking, the attention of predators may be drawn in (who may come in for a meal after us as observers have left), mating opportunities disrupted, etc. And that’s to say nothing of all the organisms that peaced out and moved somewhere they otherwise wouldn’t have as soon as a blundering human came on the scene.

As humans, we’re really bad at gauging our own impacts on the species we interact with - just because we don’t engage in physical contact doesn’t mean an interaction is “low impact”. As Frank Herbert once wrote, “What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?”

To tie that idea back into the main thread here (which has been lost a little), I think we’re also limited in our abilities to know whether another observer’s actions are appropriate, ethical, or legal in many or even most cases. I think it’s fair to add questions in comments and educate when there are bad (or seemingly bad) practices, but we should have a respect for the fact that we don’t know what the situation/context is in most observations. As such, I don’t think having this option in the DQA, which encourages a binary rather than nuanced approach to the issue, is a good idea.


And remember that users of the iPhone app like me never see all these informative markers.

Thank you for all your answers. It is obviously not a question of taking the place of the authorities who hold the power of police (even if, in general, they apply it little in terms of biodiversity). It is more a question of internal ethics in the community. Indeed, if the naturalists themselves consider that the laws on the protection of species should not be applied in a strict way, it would be incoherent to have a more radical discourse with other actors (industrialists, developers … ). The impact is not the same but symbolically, it is important. I am quite alarmed by the reactions which minimize the effects of handling on fragile species such as dragonflies, or other effects such as stress or contamination. I myself have participated in a good number of scientific studies and I know very well that as soon as you manipulate, there is a percentage of loss. I also know that we are not all so careful with animals, I have seen experienced naturalists handle animals like objects. It is therefore not for nothing that there are certain laws in certain territories.
Of course, it is not a question of “forbidding to photograph” what one wants, it is not a question either of prohibiting practices which are already forbidden, but it is a question of reflecting on the act of publication via iNaturalist. For example, part of my activity consists of convicting car salesmen who advertise their brand by showing photos of off-road vehicles in natural spaces (which is prohibited by law in France). Justice considers that as this practice is prohibited, then it is illegal to promote it by posting photos of this activity. The result can be quite expensive for car dealers.
The question is therefore rather to know if iNaturalist assumes to promote illegal practices, or to work against their trivialization. What seems trivial to us on an individual scale, multiplied by the thousands of users and millions of photos of iNaturalist, may become significant. The naturalistic activity can quickly become an object of unlimited consumption like any other and we must remain vigilant (and critical) regarding our own practices.
As we can see in these exchanges, the capture of protected species is commonly not considered as e problem among naturalists, and the question of legality, not always well known. For me it is important beyond the scientific name of a species, to be interested in its rights.
For iNaturalist maybe just something symbolic has to be done, but I think we shouldn’t let people think that “it’s not a problem”. I like the idea of ​​the pedagogic warning reminding iNaturalists to consider the adequacy of their photos with the legislation in force in the territory concerned, at the time concerned. I also like the idea of ​​a possible appreciation of each photo by users in the form of a rating.



We had a long battle in South Africa. To protect African black oystercatchers who nest on sandy beaches from fishermen who must be able to drive along the beach to where they want to be.
Lots of complaining! But now our birds are protected.


I think picking butterflies and dragonflies is also an illegal practice, and it needs to stop, I was thinking of commenting on the observation of a person individually but I don’t know what to do next. It is the same with picking birds with their wings and all.


That could be useful for plants too. I have a photo of a plant that I’m touching to get a better photo. I later regretted it. I wrote in the notes section about advising other people to not do what I did.

1 Like

Maybe it would be better to have the info in line with the marks indicating things like invasive, endemic, and endangered next to the species name rather than in the DQA. Sounds like a good idea for a separate feature request unrelated to legality.


After discussion, we won’t be moving forward with this request. As mentioned in the discussion, there is simply too much complexity to be boiled down to an annotation or something like it. Asking questions and educating others is of course fine if it’s done diplomatically.