I’d like to raise a question about iNaturalist’s stance on encouraging members of the public to photograph/video and take audio recordings of animals in an ethical manner. I’ve searched the forum for topics about ethics and have just read the thread about biodiversity & ecology ethics which is very important. However, this is a slightly different topic related to disruption of normal behaviour caused by humans being considered a biodiversity conservation issue.
Is there any advice on the site advising members how to avoid disturbing wildlife and when not to photograph/record (e.g. during sensitive times such as feeding young, mating or migration etc)? If not, should there be?
Some new studies have been published recently about how the growing popularity of bird watching and bird photography may disturb birds. According to these studies, the behaviour of people observing birds or taking photographs (e.g. crouching, holding up a camera or binoculars, using a flash) are linked to longer flight initiation distance (FID) than for people conducting other kinds of activities like walking. That is, a bird will make the decision to flee when it sees a photographer sooner than when it sees a walker suggesting that birds typically judge photographer behaviour as especially threatening. A similar study with butterflies determined that the starting distance (the distance at which a person’s approach towards an animal commences) can influence FID in butterflies, and this can vary between species (ie some species or individuals are more sensitive than others due to various factors such as their condition, distance at which they can detect incoming stimuli, traits such as defences like eye spots or unpalatability).
I contacted one of the main authors of these papers and they suggest that we are just starting to understand the way humans are perceived by animals and that a lot of interactions have the potential for negative outcomes for animals, or they might be trivial – it’s too early to say. Probably the net benefit realised by animals of platforms like iNaturalist outweigh any problems caused.
Having worked in conservation for 20 years, I believe that positive human-wildlife interactions encourage pro-environmental behaviour, so wholeheartedly support people taking photos and engaging with wildlife in other positive ways.
But, given that platforms like iNaturalist rely on members of the public taking photos and audio recordings but rarely operate with ethical permissions, my question is whether iNaturalist should consider posting some guidelines/recommendations to raise awareness about appropriate behaviour?
Codes of conduct exist to reduce the impact of human behaviour on human-wildlife interactions which could be adapted (eg BirdLife Photography, a special interest group of BirdLife Australia has produced a set).
These are the references and dois of some relevant papers. Unfortunately, they aren’t publicly available, so if you’d like a copy please message me directly and I can email them to you.
Slater, C., Cam, G., Qi, Y., Liu, Y., Guay, P.-J., Weston, M.A., 2019. Camera shy? Motivations, attitudes and beliefs of bird photographers and species-specific avian responses to their activities. Biological Conservation 237, 327-337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.07.016
Anna Z. Radkovic, Wouter F. D. Van Dongen, Lennox Kirao, Patrick-Jean Guay & Michael A. Weston (2017): Birdwatchers evoke longer escape distances than pedestrians in some African birds, Journal of Ecotourism, DOI: 10.1080/14724049.2017.1372765
Harbour, D., Henson, E., Boers, C., Truman, D., Fernando, C., Guay, P.J., Weston, M.A., 2019. Flight initiation distance in Lepidopterans is species-specific and positively related to starting distance. Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology 22 (1), 41-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aspen.2018.11.015