Why I don’t post more pictures
What is the first thing someone does when they are experiencing wildlife up close, seeing an animal they have never seen before or are really excited to see? What is the first thing that anyone tends to do nowadays? Whip out that phone and snap a picture. Like the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And it’s true! But sometimes those pictures do not accurately describe what is happening in the photo or the main takeaway from what is occurring. The backstory is often lost and without context, people make snap judgments that in the end, are detrimental to the people and animals involved.
Cutting, pasting, copying, sharing, linking… all of this is a culprit of misinformation. Pictures are now more and more publicly available whether we like it or not… and captions and photo cred do not always travel along with these photos. Seeing a picture of a little blue penguin wearing a knitted sweater sure looks cute. Without a caption, someone could think it is in captivity being dressed up for human sake, another person could think it was photoshopped, etc. In reality, these penguins are in a rehab facility after they were caught in an oil slick. They needed an extra layer of warmth and protection because the oil destroys the waterproofing on their feathers. It is also lethal to ingest. Where does that photo say that?
Another example. Animal encounters are becoming popular. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of them here, but more and more people are experiencing the joys of wildlife up-close. I saw a video this week of a group of visitors meeting two flamingos in a controlled, encounter program. Awesome! However, I noticed some things. 1) They were all snapping away and not focusing on how amazing it was that they were practically kissing these giant pink birds. 2) The flamingos were investigating their new friends the only way they know how… using their beaks. While the people didn’t seem to mind and were enjoying it, taking a still photo of that experience could look more like a flamingo attack. Through these close encounters and other wildlife viewing opportunities, we are becoming used to seeing these amazing photos and videos. Often, people do not realize (or think it is more common) the once in a lifetime and special occurrence it is to see an migrating humpback whale or sea turtles hatching and heading to sea. And they are so preoccupied with that Instagram worthy photo that they miss the moment completely (I am guilty of this as well).
And what about geotagged photos? Saying you were at this beach at this time has many implications (including your safety). However, if this geotagged photo shows an very rare lizard that is illegally traded internationally, you just told the world where these creatures live. While this is an extreme case (and one that has happened before due to published work used in terrible ways to identify home ranges of this reptile), it happens all the time. Moreover, blogging, travel books, forums, and other platforms are spreading the word faster than ever. Those spots that were once private and unique are no longer as they have been shared. What happens to the animals, plants that live there? And nature in general? This has happened to the yellow-eyed penguin in several locations. Nest sites plummeted to unsustainable levels, because there are just more people. They can no longer nap under a bush because hundreds of feet pass by daily now. They cannot come ashore because people are standing on their track. Unintended consequences galore.
I could go on forever about this topic but the real reason for this post is to explain why I do not post more amazing photos and videos of the wildlife I interact with everyday. Most of my experiences have been incredibly special and rare, all of which has been sanctioned, permitted, and safe. However, I will list some of my reasons for you. This is what is not said in the photos and cannot be expressed to the extend which they should be.
- This is all a privilege. Seeing these animals in the wild is never a right.
- That photo op is not worth the life or health of an animal. EVER.
- I do not want people getting the wrong message and assuming they can hold a yellow-eyed penguin too, or tramp through the dunes looking for nests.
- Any handling of any wildlife, penguins included, has either been under supervision from a trained person or I have been trained.
- Restraint of the animals is done using best practices and with safety in mind for animal and human alike. It does not hurt. They are consistently being monitored for their well-being. At any sign of distress, they are released and monitored from a distance to make sure they are ok.
- There is a reason everything is being done. We do not just catch penguins for the sake of it.
I could go on but I think you get the point. The animals I work with are some of the most endangered and vulnerable in the world. I do not take that lightly. However, a photo cannot portray that. For the safety of the animals, I don’t post my pictures of my first GPS deployment on a yellow-eyed penguin or pictures where nesting sites can be identified. As a researcher, I am trying to protect them… in more ways than one.