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Professional Photographers and Wildlife Viewers Code of Ethics

As I wander around this country photographing wild critters, I wonder why more individuals are not injured or killed by large animals. In large part, this is due to the extreme patience of the animal in question, not the intelligence of the two-legged antagonist. When you enter a National Park, forest, refuge or preserve, you are entering land that these animals call home. You are the visitor and the guest of these animals. We may have different reasons for being in the park, but we all have the obligation to be respectful of the place these critters call home. I would hope that all who read these words will understand what a privilege it is to be their guest and how truly beautiful all these animals are. No image is worth disrupting the life cycle of any animal. We must all strive to respect all the animals of the forest.

As a professional wildlife photographer, I do not go to the wilderness just to collect images of animals. I go to learn from the animals. By observing animals, you begin to realize how complex their lives are. You see the interaction of their young and old alike. You see the tender moments between the mothers and their babies and you see the violence that a kill entails. You get to experience the moment you are accepted as not a threat but as a curiosity to be explored. These are my personal reasons for visiting these special places. Our reasons maybe different but we all have the same responsibility to limit our interference in their lives.

Each activity has a code of conduct and ethics to control adverse behavior. The main ethical consideration in working with animals is to never stress them by interfering with their safety zone. This safety zone is different for each species of animal and each animal within the species. To know when stress is occurring, one must absolutely understand each animal's behavior. The other option is to maintain a safe distance from each animal. The Park Service has recommendations for each animal within its ecosystem. Of course, the mantra of wildlife photography is close counts. How do we reconcile these issues?

Knowledge! Years of observations have taught me how to see when an animal is being stressed by my actions. Its body language, movements and eye contact tell this story. If you hear vocalizations you are absolutely interfering. If the animal changes its direction of travel or activity, you are interfering. If he runs from a situation that you created or stops feeding, you are interfering. You must not initiate any of these situations! You must never interfere with breeding animals. This is a no brainer! Some situations will get you attacked, like interfering with a bear feeding on a carcass or a female brown with cubs. Sometimes you actually survive these incidents. But mostly, the animal suffers from these encounters that he or she did not expect or initiate.

Please remember that you are the visitor here. Show the same manners that you would expect from an invited guest to your home.

Elk Bull
Bison Bulls Sparing Black Bear Moose Bull