Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Are you an ethical wildlife photographer?

You recently unwrapped the latest iPhone or a shiny new digital camera, maybe an SLR with some fancy lenses.

Now you have itchy shutter fingers. You are ready to point our camera at something spectacular and capture a beautiful memory forever. But where to go?

Not to brag, but Ontario parks are beautiful and iconic places. Covering nearly 10% of the province and protecting some of Ontario’s rarest and most picturesque habitats, our parks are home to a variety of wildlife, from fascinating insects to enormous moose.

Basically, they are a photographer’s dreamscape.

We are also animal lovers. We know how exciting wildlife encounters can be. We understand how much you want that perfect photo.

But before you hit the road, ask yourself: is it worth risking the life of an animal or the health of an ecosystem to take the perfect photo?

If your answer is “no,” check out our list of seven common photo violations to ensure you keep our parks safe and healthy.

(By the way, we know that most photographers have high standards and strong ethics when photographing wildlife. [you rock!]. If you’re already an ethical photographer, this could be a great article to share with colleagues or newbies in your own network.)

1. Bait and feed wildlife

We’ve seen some really bad behavior. Smear trees with wet cat food and peanut butter to attract martens. Attracting red foxes to vehicles with chicken meat.

Do not do this!

The food may not be harmful to the animal immediately, but feeding or baiting “trains” the animal to abandon its natural caution toward humans.

foxes getting used toThis is what a habituated animal looks like. Animals willing to trot along busy roads and approach vehicles generally have a short life expectancy.

Habituation It occurs when an animal is exposed to a stimulus so many times that it loses sensitivity or stops seeing the stimulus as a threat. The bait causes habituation, “rewarding” an animal for abnormal behavior.

We understand that you’re dying for a photo of that cool creature, but keep the food in your pocket. It is not worth risking the animal’s life.

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Pst! Even if you are not the “feeder,” taking photographs of an animal being fed is training it not to be afraid of people.

2. Stomp out of the way

Park staff have seen this on several occasions: beautiful scenery or wildlife in a predictable location and a person taking some photos.

Sounds good, right?

Absolutely. As long as they follow the trail.

visitors on the roadYou can help protect the parks by staying on the trail when taking photos.

Many of our parks are home to sensitive habitats and species that can inadvertently be trampled, crushed, or otherwise destroyed when people leave the trail to chase that glorious photo.

You may not realize how much damage a few steps in the wrong area can cause. So stay on the trails; They are there for a reason.

3. Habitat damage

Our provincial parks are already wonderful landscapes, but every season we find photographers who feel the need to “dress the scene.”

For example: The branches of this pine tree were pruned by enthusiastic photographers trying to find the right angle.

Pine tree

We found this knife under the tree after they left. They had used it to spread peanut butter up and down the pine tree to attract animals.

knife on the ground

We’ve also seen photographers collect branches covered in lichen or berries and place them where birds might land to take a “better” photo.

It is ILLEGAL to damage and collect brush in provincial parks. Doing so risks damaging the ecosystem, as well as receiving a hefty fine.

4. Introduce a non-native species

To avoid being fined for collecting brush, some people bring sticks and vegetation from home to decorate their scene.

While they do not directly harm park vegetation, they may inadvertently introduce invasive plants into the park. Like firewood, vegetation brought from home can be infected with invasive insects or other pathogens that could harm our forests.

And by the way, leaving these berries and branches is littering, another big (and illegal) no-no.

5. Road manners

In some parks, it is common to see animals such as elk, white-tailed deer, and black bear along the roads.


Every year we see dozens of traffic jams on our roads and people stopping their vehicle in the active lane. They jump out of the car and stand in the middle of the road, faces pressed into their visors, oblivious to other vehicles on the road.

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Friends: this is simply not safe!

Before taking your camera:

  • Move your car safely off the busy part of the road.
  • turn on your emergency lights
  • look both ways before crossing the street

6. Following wildlife

Animals rarely pose for our photographs. Stellar wildlife photography is often the result of luck, patience, and experience.

It’s important to remember: Ethical photographers never get too close to the animal!

moose on the roadThese photographers maintain a respectful distance. while they took photos. Moose are powerful wild animals; Following them could scare them and make them run back to the road.

The animal may think you are chasing it (you are!) and may go from placid to defensive. You can also scare him into risky behavior, such as running into the road. This is even more serious if the animal has babies (you won’t get between mom and her babies!).

Chasing wildlife or following it too closely is also known as “stalking” and is illegal.

If you can take a selfie with a phone, you’re too close. Accept the limitations of your camera, bring a zoom lens and respect the animals’ space.

7. This is a recording.

To get a bird to come closer, some photographers use a recording of its call. Many birds, especially males, will approach to investigate this potential rival.

During the breeding season, this distracts them from their true rivals and from caring for their mate or chicks. The rest of the year, recordings can stress birds and distract them from feeding. For example, in winter birds need to eat a lot just to survive the night.

Many parks are home to threatened or endangered species, so disturbing them is bad.

Again: it is illegal to harass wildlife in provincial parks.

We love our photographers.

All that said, we really appreciate people coming to Ontario parks to find fun and inspiration here. Many excellent photographers have donated photographs to parks, while others have appeared on newspaper covers, social media posts, and other park publications. Thank you all!

Group of photographers taking pictures of Stubbs Falls at Arrowheadpp.

Ethical and responsible photography is a great hobby and an incredible way to get closer to nature. Our provincial parks are yours to appreciate, and if you care about wildlife and wild places, you will try to impact them as little as possible.

So help us spread the message.

Spread the word about ecologically ethical photography by sharing this post with your friends. Paste it to your Facebook status or send a quick tweet.