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PostPosted: Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:23 am 
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I've been fortunate enough over the last 8 years or so to go on many of these excursions but as time has passed I am finding more and more of these supposed eco-tour companies that do not follow guidelines or laws set out to protect animals.

What got me thinking about this of late was a show on Oasis talking about African Safari outfitters and how some are now endangering the very animals they make their money off of. All too often you get the angle of a solitary jeep carefully observing wildlife when if you would change the camera angle slightly there is not one but many times more than 8 jeeps observing these animals. There is a serious ongoing study now involving the cheetah which may show that animals are dieing due to the fact that cheetahs can no longer approach their prey due to the constant harrassment of these tour outfitters. Cheetahs hunt during the day and that is when the tourist pressure is at its highest.

Several nature reserves in Africa are so large they do not have the manpower to patrol all areas.. as such operators are going off the assigned paths to get closer to the wildlife thus harrassing it more and in so doing they are also destroying land by driving over it time and again. There are areas where the designated driving path was 20km long but due to tourism pressure one can now see side paths running for more than 100km. The stories go on and on.

Some will argue that eco-tourism has saved African wildlife and without it the animals would be a lot worse off and in many cases I would agree but as this form of tourism has evolved so has the bending of the rules and so has the disregard for wildlife. I think we can have responsible eco-tourism without the harrassment of wildlife if we would just begin to manage the operators.

If it was just one species or just one area that would be something but pressure on wildlife seems to be increasing all the time and natural behaviour is effected by this. I've been on whale outings where I have observed outfitters ignore Canadian law and motor at full speed to within meters of whales to get their clients close asap. Some areas recieve so much pressure that all daylight hours are spent observing animals. In no way can this leave the environ in a natural state. Some operators are going so far as to bait animals and then sell it as a natural encounter.

Anyways.. the reason I write this is to make ppl aware of these situations and if you choose to take one of these tours, which I highly recommend, do so with a legitimate operator. Check their credentials and ensure they follow all laws and guidelines when approaching and observing animals. Most legitimate operators will state this on their web pages but if they dont dont be afraid to ask.

It has been my experience that photography outings get the most pressure from clients.. they are always pushing the operator/guide to get a little closer or stay a little longer or do this or do that for better light or whatever reason. Don't follow this exapmle and trust your guide... he/she knows what is best.. for the animal, for you, and for the best shots. When on these tours be patient. The operators know what they are doing and will get you as close as they can in the safest way for both you and the animals. You will get your shots and you will feel a lot better about it knowing the animal was not harrassed or endangered in any way.

I for one plan on taking many more of these tours and I'm invited to go on several a year to do their photography for them for their comapny and publicity. I'm being a lot more careful these days on which tours I take and I am asking a lot of questions beforehand to ensure the company is following an ethical path in their persuit of wildlife and into wild ereas. I urge everyone to do the same.

Thanks for reading my rant :D

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Last edited by Wolfsong on Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:14 am 
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Without having gone on more "wild" wildlife tours I can certainly imagine what you're describing. On my to do list is an African safari but to be honest I wouldn't know where to start looking. There are so many small operators it is hard to tell...

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 08, 2011 1:42 pm 
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Money is the root of all evil....
They will do what it takes to get you...the paying customer...the shot.
Their reputation and selling depends on it unfortunately.

If you looked at booking with a company and checked with some past clients and their review said ...
"Well it was a good tour/great outfitters but all my pics have ten Jeeps in them parked up close to the critters and I needed a bigger zoom or I should have booked with the other 10 Jeeps"
Would you book with them?

I see things happening with the whales in the Bay here every year.
When I first started working there there was one boat going out once a day to see whales.
It's taken off in leaps and bounds now there are about ten boats going sometimes 4 times per day.
They have their rules about approaching but they also have their rules about not getting in each others way too.
I think they gripe amongst themselves over the radio about the latter more often than the ones that matter for the sake of the whales.
All about the money and making the customer happy.

The only way to stop it is to stop paying them.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 08, 2011 4:43 pm 
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it was late last night when I wrote this... I cancelled my polar bear trip to churchill this year for exactly this reason... It was supposed to be in a tundra buggy... Again... angles are everything... you see amazing footage of one of these buggies watching bears when in reality, more often than not, there is a litteral caravan of tundra buggies. There may well be 4 behind you and 5 in front of you as you proceed. This is not an "intimate encounter" and not what I want and there is no way anyone can tell me this doesn't effect the bear's behaviour. I'm booked again for next fall just north of churchill but will be going with a smaller outfitter on dog sled way off the beaten track with minimal environmental impact.

I was leary even before this... I have seen footage of 50 or so ppl stuffed into one of these buggies and questioned just how much I would enjoy this in full winter attire... I'm not a ppl person to start with and the chances of being in one of these vehicles with some screaming kids or whatever doesn't do a lot for my enthusiasm when it comes to this kind of tour...

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 4:48 am 
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kpr and Zack got me thinking about the state of the earth's wildlife again with their conversation about local practices in another thread in this forum...

People now say that the concept of a wild africa is just a myth. Africa, for multiple reasons, hardly has any naturally wild areas left. When you go on safaris you are going to animal preserves which are fenced in and protected by armed guards from poachers and locals hunting for bush meat which is in high demand world wide. You may never see the fences but they are there. These preserves are monitored constantly and animal populations are culled or repopulated according to strick preditor/prey relationships/guidelines. You are hearing this more and more. As they say.. it used to be one of africa's dirty little secrets but it seems these days it has become common knowledge.

That being said I honestly believe in my heart that Canada has the largest remaining wild areas in the world which are unspoiled by human activities. The areas are vast but as I mentioned in another post some of these areas are becoming inundated by people... our largest and most famous national parks being a prime example. Go there on an average weekend and chances are good the traffic will be worse than they are in your home town. I know yellowstone in the states has the same problem. At what point do we say enough is enough and then what is to be done about it. The animals are becoming so used to human contact that it compares closely to urban wildlife in ease of access. This cannot be good for an animal's natural behaviour. Form what Zack tells us it sounds like this is the case throughout most of Florida as well.

Is Africa and what is happening there a window into our future or is there an alternative. Is there a way for us to protect wild areas without overpopulating these areas with tourism and human activity.

When I was out with the white bears this fall there was serious talk about creating a lottery for people to gain access to the bear's area and limit visitors to a specified number every year. Would this help to keep the area in a natural state? Of course it would but I don't believe this to be the right answer. Not having a lot of faith in our species when it comes to things like this I firmly believe that if this were to happen it would become an attraction for the rich alone leaving the average person little or no chance at all at ever seeing this area, or areas like it, with thier own eys.

I dunno what the answers are but the way things are going it isn't looking to good for our wildlife.

There is serious discussion right now in north america about the Y to Y project. What everyone is looking at is connecting all the national parks from Yellowstone to the Yukon with smaller parks to create a single natural corridor for wildlife along the whole rockie chain and up into the yukon. A great idea if we can get it done I think...

We have a unique opportunity here in north america and in canada specifically. We have seen what has happened in other countries when humans ignore wildlife and natural habitats for the all mighty dollar and all but destroy it and then spend millions trying to rehabilitate areas to their natural state. We have the chance that not many countries have anymore. To do it right the first time and not have to worry about restoring an environ to its natural state as so much of our country still is in its natural state. The only question becomes will we?

Sorry.. just needed to rant some more

And yes.. as some have asked... I do do, and have done for some time, speaking seminars on this subject. :)

I think this may become my treehugger rant thread... that being said I still like my moose and deer steaks on the BBQ, fresh caught pan-fried fish as well as roasted partridge :twisted:

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 5:03 pm 
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Another rant for me :)

Was watching another show on Oasis last night and they were talking about the effects of roads and highways on wildlife. According to most roads and highways act as barriers for some animal species and obviously also create a big hazzard for animals as a whole...

They talked a lot about national parks and how in places like banff they have built animal crossings either by creating a natural overpass for animals or by creating huge culverts to allow animals to go under roads. They have placed cameras at some of these crossings and they are used by many animals...

What shocked me is that they mentioned that in the summer during peek times Banff can see 30'000 vehicles a day!!! :shock:

That is insane... I know the last time I drove through on a weekend I promised myself I would avoid both Jasper and Banff on weekends if at all possible due to the traffic but I had no idea it was that high. it equates to about 20 cars a minute!

I know there is no answer to this but one can quickly understand why the animals have little if any fear of humans and why in many ways these animals behave much more lke wildlife you encounter in urban parks in regards to human interaction and nothing at all like animals in wild unprotected areas.

These parks do make for amazing photo opps though :twisted:

In early June I was planning on heading to Waterton Lakes National Park for a few days but seeing I am getting much more interested in the y2y project I think I will extend the trip to a week or so and include Jasper and Banff as well. I think by connecting the 3 parks as a larger focus area you would get a much different perspective. I just need to ensure I spend the weekend in Waterton Lakes and not in either Jasper or Banff.

Anyone interested in learning more about y2y here is a link...

http://www.y2y.net/

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 6:15 am 
Hi Wolfsong,

to keep the topic related to photography, perhaps the question is if getting more shots of wildlife is at all a responsible undertaking?

Is it not simple logic? Can anyone really feign legitimate surprise about the fact that transporting large groups of people, every single day, within camera-range of actual wildlife, will have a seriously negative effect? The lazy comfort-seeking average person of course expect to be driven to the location..

Does the world need more pictures of polar bears? Isn't it simply a selfish desire for some artistic self-expression or a profit-motive that compels this behavior in you and all the others who interfere with the wildlife?

It doesn't take a degree in environment engineering to predict that even if one or two of these companies are relatively "responsible" the sheer weight of the numbers is ruinous in and of itself. Even if the observed animal shows no signs that we humans can interpret as "distress" or signs of "being disturbed" do we know for sure that the same can be said about their prey?

Does the average consumer of these tours themselves know enough to even ask the right questions? And how do we ensure they are not lying?

I don't disagree that consumers should try to exhibit utmost care in their choice of guides and companies, but this in no way absolves any consumer from any responsibility. Ignorance is not an excuse for anything and an entirely inter-human concern of no relevance.

The bottom line: people choose for selfish reasons, to get up close and take picture of animals. This has a completely predictable adverse effect. The only answer is to stop doing it. And of course nobody does.

So, to offer a counterpoint, I would venture this: any and all adverse effects to wildlife because of this desire to get within camera range, is a responsibility that falls squarely on the shoulders on BOTH the photographers and the companies who cater for them. Ignorance of wildlife, the practices of the companies, the environment is not an excuse and excuses are irrelevant even if that was not the case.

Thanks for reading my rant too :-)


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:33 pm 
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Hi lahlahsr,

I think your logic applies to the vast majority of both outfitters as well as photographers. That being said there are of course counterpoints to everything.

I think there is a small group of dedicated natural history photographers out there who of course make money off their photography but also aim to educate the public on our natural environs to keep the masses at least in a minimal way connected to these environs.

I often argue that zoos are a necessary evil to keep urban people in touch with wildlife as if we continue to lose touch with our wild environs we are only going to abuse it more and more.

Back to photography... an outing I did last fall to the Great Bear Rainforest was lead by an outfitter who was obviously also an environmentalist trying to bring light to the region. Both he and another outfitter up there have been involved in the struggle to protect this area from oil and logging corporations since the beginning. Even he acknowledged that the vast majority of people on his tours have no clue and just want the pics or experience. That being said 2 people from Germany 2 years ago were so impressed with the area they donated 1.5 million to the cause. The money was used to buy up all the trophy grizzly bear licenses out there and hopefully stop the hunt. Many more people make smaller donations as well after taking these tours. Then you have people like me who take back this information and try to present it to the public in my area to raise their awareness to this struggle but also try to link things to it like the fact that neither BC or Alberta have any type of endangered species act which only aggravates these types of areas even more. This individual spends a lot of time on his tours to educate his clients with the view that even if only a small percentage takes things to heart it is worth the effort.

Outfitters like him are unfortunately the exception however and not the norm. Most will push the envelop more and more to get thier clients closer and closer for that "WOW" moment their clients are after with little or no thought given to the stress put on the animal they are persuing. I see way more of the latter than I care to. The amazing thing is that if people, including outfitters, would spend more time studying the animals, and their behaviors, they encounter and would just slow down and let the moment happen instead of trying to create the moment they would see their success rate increase dramatically.

There is some good work being done out there but as you said these people are in the minority.

I guess for me it is a combination of the 2. I love nature and wildlife and want to experience as much of it as I can while I can. This is the selfish side. But I also spend a lot of time and effort trying to educate people on some of our more fragile ecosystems here in Canada. The website I just started is of course aimed towards photography and selling my images but by far the bigger part of it is the seminars section. It's what I do 2 to 3 times a week now on average and the seminars are very much aimed at sustainable use of these protected areas and bringing to light the issues these areas are dealing with on a daily basis. The most popular seminar by far is the one I do on living with and interactions with wildlife... kind of surprising considering where I live.

I really believe that if there wasn't that core group of natural history photographers, who for the most part are also activists as well, the state of our remaining wild areas would diminish even faster than they already are. BTW... most of these people are the most fascinating people I have ever met... both in their uniqueness as well as their knowledge.

LOL I got up this morning with the intent of writing a new article which will hopefully become an outline for a new seminar/workshop called "The changing tactics of wildlife photography" strictly because of my thought line yesterday when I wrote the above. It's kind of scary when you start looking into the future and the pressure that will be put on wildlife. You are right in saying most of the population wants instant results and gratification and I think you will see that hit a new extreme as the years go by. I think the days of sitting in blinds for days to capture shots may well come to an end in the near future for most mammal species. Wildlife photographers adapt hunting tactics quite successfully to photography and what I am seeing more and more are trail cams everywhere in areas where mammals are present. This of course is a hunting tactic but it is being applied by photographers more and more. It becomes very easy to let the trail cam do the work for a 2 week period and then retrieve the information to seek out patterns in animal movements.

Speaking of pressure on wildlife... We also need to take into account that photographers are only a small percentage of people who put pressure on wildlife. Scientists and researchers go much farther than most photographers. A story shared with me by a pro photographer and environmentalist last year was pretty revealing in this regard. She was invited along on an Orca research expedition last year in BC. They encountered a female Orca with a dead baby. The researchers were within meters of the mom as she was nudging the baby trying to revive it for several hours which according to my friend put stress on the mom. They then attempted several times to take the baby away from the mom with no success and with this stress out the mom more and more. Finally the mom got so stressed that the researchers, after much debate, decided to leave the situation alone. According to her dead baby Orcas are in high demand for study by researchers as they are so rare. My friend told me this was one of the most dreadful experiences she has ever been a part of in the wild.

We as photographers need to keep all of this in mind when we are photographing wildlife. We are not the only people stressing out these animals and this needs to be on our minds every time we encounter an animal and a decision needs to be made on how far to push the encounter.

I guess I should also add, if it is not already clear by now, that I of course am a wildlife photographer, an environmentalist, and an activist but I also enjoy fishing and even though I do not hunt any more I still enjoy a good meal consisting of any wild game whenever I can. With this in mind one of the hardest decissions I have ever had to make in regards to photography is if I want to accompany local inuits on a traditional Whale hunt. One side of my brain says killing a Whale goes against everything I believe in while the other side says this tradition goes back thousands of years with little effect on the species. It was not the native cultures who devistated the Whale populations. I was lucky enough to be invited along on one of these outings... I have decided to take them up on the trip as I'm sure it will be very educational and enlightening to say the least.

I feel a new article coming on :)

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:55 pm 
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as promised here it is... The evolution of Wildlife Photography Tactics...

http://reflectionsoncanadianwildlife.com/writings

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Reflections On Canadian Wildlife
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