Is it ever ok to upload Endangered Species?

I would appreciate help balancing any good associated with uploading observations of endangered species with any danger it would pose to the animals (in this case, but it should apply to all taxa) in question.

For the species I’m thinking of today the location is well known. This makes it both safer and less helpful to add an observation. Is it ever helpful to science? I’m thinking scientists are already monitoring most endangered species and my only real motivation is an obsessive habit of counting and documenting. For our local celebrity endangered species, I report directly to the organization working for their conservation and (after lots of lobbying and negotiating) reports are now hidden on eBird.

I know you can obscure location, and my camera doesn’t have GPS, but with some footwork and based on other observations, I would think people might wager a good guess for location. Is this a real danger? Is there a default hide feature for endangered species anywhere on iNaturalist beyond location being obscured? What do you all do about endangered species you see?


For species that are officially listed as endangered/vulnerable, iNat will automatically obscure the location. You can look at the species on iNat and see if it is tagged as endangered/vulnerable. You can also manually obscure the location on the observation.

If you’re worried about ~20km radius being too specific, that is another issue. You can always set the observation’s location accuracy radius to something very large, and put the location point sufficiently far from the real location. But I would note on the observation that the location is not accurate due to your concerns about the species status.


(fixed a typo in the topic title)

This is a topic that has been discussed many times on the forum. I recommend searching for past discussions.

  • nothing posted to the internet is ever 100% secure. If you feel like there is a major threat, then consider not posting it.

  • most taxa threatened by location disclosure are automatically obscured on iNaturalist. You can read about obscuration in this FAQ. You could also manually obscure it or make it private. You might also consider obscuring all of your observations from that day as well.

Yes, although at what scale is difficult to know.

I know state agencies and other conservation groups and researchers use endangered/threatened species data for sure (which they obtain get via projects). And people involved in plant conservation in California, at least, have said that having a record of a plant in a certain area can be helpful, as sometimes developers will surreptitiously remove them and pretend they were never there.

I suspect this varies radically depending on region and taxon.

It’s a bit more nuanced than that. The main criterion is “will location disclosure on iNaturalist be detrimental to the taxon”. So if a taxon is threatened by development, for example, it may not be automatically obscured. Also not every listing for every taxon in every place is on iNat.


For many plants, posting the observations on iNaturalist can be helpful. We know much less about the distribution of plants than you might think. Populations of most rare species are not monitored with any regularity, so even posting evidence of their continued existence is helpful. Do obscure the location.

Consider not posting plants that are very popular with collectors – rare orchids, trillium, some Sedum and Dudleya, etc., but do report them to a relevant agency. (Most U.S. states have a Natural Heritage Program office or some equivalent organization.) Or maybe post them using a huge accuracy value not centered on the population you saw. On the other hand, you can probably post all the rare Carex you would ever wish without causing trouble because nobody cares.

You wrote, “For the species I’m thinking of today the location is well known.” In that case, I have to ask, would posting it on iNaturalist really put it at increased risk? (Probably not.)


Thank you so much for your always thoughtful and valuable contributions to the discussions here. Although I am unfortunately not expert in plant ID, I have made note of these places to report rare plants. I am involved with the local native plant community, and I am happy to know how best to help. And one day soon, I hope, my skill level will be higher.

I also appreciate you raising the issue of poaching. My discomfort stems both from sharing locations and adding interest. It’s true you’re not revealing the location of the species if there are many others aware of the site. But by sharing photos you can’t but help remind people of how very cool the species is, at a minimum, plant a seed about how much they’d like to see them, or feed much worse intentions, potentially. You are “spreading the word” and putting pressure on the species, and with far less reason than the protection of a plant in need of habitat preservation. Thanks so much for your reply!


Thank you for fixing the typo. I searched the forum before I posted. I have searched the forum every time I’ve posted. Note that it’s not possible to comment or follow up on previous related discussions if you have missed them. If your specific question has not been addressed within the last two months, there’s no way to engage or seek clarification other than starting a new post.

The only related posts I found concerned how to obscure locations and problems with locations not being obscured when they should be. My question concerned the ethics of posting at all and whether that posed a significant danger. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on that. I really appreciate them, which is why I came here.

The consistent comment I get and see here is, “This has already been discussed.” I understand your weariness with revisiting topics that you feel have been completely covered. But see above: comments are all closed on related posts. So I think that shuts down people who are newer to the forum or people with different questions about the topic. Threads following up on different aspects of related posts can lead to really valuable information like the resources @sedgequeen shared about where to report plants vulnerable to poaching.

Special thanks to you for offering valuable thoughts on a topic you feel has already been over discussed. They were helpful to me in thinking this issue over.


Large or charismatic species often are being tracked by scientist decently but small, not well known and non-charismatic species often don’t receive much recognition or funding for research or tracking.


It seems almost every relevant topic has been discussed on this forum at some time or another, if only tangentially, and in many cases those discussions are in closed threads or can’t be easily found in a search. So I don’t see a problem in raising them again. Maybe some new insights will be posted that have not been touched on previously.


Well, anecdotally: some seven months ago a taxon underwent revision and was split up; immediately that made a couple populations to be new, species-level taxa, and without being lumped in with the larger population they were immediately granted Endangered Species Act status.

Unfortunately, in the 20 years it took to get there several populations (actually MOST of the populations) were extirpated, leaving only a couple of now-ESA colonies.

Reveal the location or not?

Well, in this case they’re not yet on iNat under the revised EPA taxonomy. But one could put an observation under the old name.

Impact of doing so?

IF one were to make the remaining population public, it undoubtedly drive visitors, and that would be unwelcomed.

Ultimately though, it probably won’t matter. One of several causes of the species being endangered recently is due to actions by US & Canadian governments. So it’s pitting ESA (USFWS = government) against governments who are doing what they’re doing to promote revenue. It is likely that the USFWS won’t win this one, if they’re even trying (I’ve seen no evidence that they have.) In other words, go on in and grab a bunch, you might get arrested but better do it before the governments wipe them out.

Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. For what it’s worth you can always message @forum_moderators to open up an old thread if you like. It’s also good to say “I’ve looked at past discussions but have a different question” or something like that when you start a topic. That helps everyone know you’ve done that and have read what’s been discussed.

Also, for future reference you can quote multiple people in one post rather than make replies to multiple posts (like I did above), that helps keep discussions a bit cleaner. It’s kind of a cool feature of Discourse, the software we use for the Forum. To quote someone, select the text you want to respond to and click on “Quote”.

Definitely something I think about, although I imagine posting something to iNat is much less likely to reach as many people as posting something to Instagram or a larger social network.


As others have said, these species (if recognized by iNat as endangered) will have their locations automatically obscured.

Addressing this portion though:

I really wish that was the case. We try, but we lack the resources to track anything more than a small portion of the endangered species, and even with the ones we are tracking and working with additional information is always useful.

For reference, at the moment the IUCN Red List counts 9,251 species as Critically Endangered, 16,364 as Endangered, and 16,493 species as Vulnerable, and that’s a massive undercount of the real situation, that’s just what they’ve been able to do some assessment of.

Where I work, an island off the coast of Vietnam, we have something like 100-200 species currently recognized as falling in one of those 3 categories, not including migrants that pass through the area, a bunch more that are locally ranked in those categories, and every time we have additional researchers coming out here to look at plants, bats, snails, herps, etc they find species that were either previously not known to be on the island, or species new to science.

In our conservation work we can only focus specifically on a couple of species, out of all these (to say nothing of the thousands of other species on this island), so we have to be strategic in how we apply our resources to protect the greatest number of species while still giving attention to the most threatened of them.

Replicate this across the planet and you’ll see that the vast majority of endangered species have very little attention of any sort focused on them, especially in highly biodiverse nations as many of these are developing nations with few resources to put toward research or conservation activities.


Forum mods will usually reopen a thread on reasonable request.

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iNaturalist should mix my endangered observations between other observations so it can change the order of the uploads or you can add it at a random time. I always think about this bc when I almost never do one observation and follow uploading many and I think that it facilitates the minumum location radius for the endangered species. I don’t know if someone will get it but I think it should mix between the observations I have. The confuser, the better. And if someone wants to know more this person should contact you so you can trust this person interventions.


On the website, you could edit it to have a much larger uncertainty radius and a different time and date. Obviously, this makes it less useful for research but it would be much harder to see where it came from

I believe making a big accuracy field is fine. Obscuring or marking an observation as private is fine, too.

Yet, I do not think it is okay to change the date and time. Accurate Date and time are important factors in the data quality. I believe accurate date/time is part of iNat’s terms and conditions for posting observations


Seriously edited:
I was wrong: [I think (could be wrong) that if you post a really rare plant that iNaturalist knows is rare, it will obscure not only that plant but all the other ones you posted from that place that day, maybe all the others from that day.]

Because iNat doesn’t, you can still obscure them all yourself, so people can’t follow your trail. (Please avoid marking them Private – then we don’t even know what continent they’re on. Pretty much useless.)


iNaturalist doesn’t do this. You’ll have to do it manually.


I don’t think it’s quite that restrictive. There are lots of observations on iNat that don’t have a date or wrong dates. They are casual though, just like observations without locations or without pictures. Accurate dates are required for research grade status.

That said, if the location is automatically obscured because of the species being endangered, the date is obscured, too, and will only show the month. In addition, the forward and back arrows won’t work so finding the previous and next observations in a series is not as straight forward as for non-obscured ones. To avoid having someone guess the date based on surrounding observations, I will sometimes either post the endangered ones earlier than the rest or hold off on posting them until I’ve posted a few other things from other dates/locations. That way they are more spread out on my observation list and not right adjacent to other observations from the same hike. Of course this only works if you actually know the ID and that the species is endangered.


NO, with all due respect: often any disturbance can be a threat, and more traffic for curiosity’s sake is a negative, collection or no.
As a rare plant surveyor, may I say we’re specifically requested to refrain from iNat postings. IMHO, no harm done.

There really needs to be a setting in-between “Private” and “Obscured” for “Only Show To Professionals” based on this conversation. iNat can already provide precise location information on obscured observations to qualified individuals upon request. The next step would be if individuals can opt-in to have the observation hidden from the public altogether, but still visible to researchers.

A lot of endangered species have really fragmentary ranges, and quite often isolated populations of many taxa can go overlooked. Especially if there is a geographically isolated pocket no one knew about before. While it would be nice to tell a FWS employee and hope it gets logged, in reality it’s highly likely such an observation will get forgotten about or knowledge of its existence will remain in the heads of a few local individuals. If an outside researcher wants to track down all known populations of a species for accurate range maps, climate tolerance modeling, or even conservation concerns, they would potentially not know these populations even existed.

At least if it is logged in iNat some future researcher or conservationist can make use of this information, even if it may have to be hidden from the public to prevent poaching. It also prevents companies from saying “there was no endangered species here” because now you have a physical record with a date.