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Wildlife observation

Best practices

In collaboration with Julie Audet, wildlife photographer

Nature. Respect: Two words that should always exist side by side, especially when it comes to wildlife observation. Here are some tips to help you enjoy this activity to the fullest, while safeguarding nature. Plus, some valuable advice to make your wildlife watching even more rewarding. 

Julie Audet | © Sépaq

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been getting out into nature more than ever. Not surprising as, despite all the restrictions on our daily lives, it is still relatively easy to enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors. There has also been an increase in the popularity of wildlife observation and nature photography. While there is no universal manual for respecting nature, here are five principles worth keeping in mind.

1. Awareness

Nature belongs to no one. Observing a wild animal in its natural habitat is not an inherent right; it’s a privilege, a unique opportunity, a moment borrowed. To observe a wild animal is to enjoy an intimate connection to nature. Which means the location of a specific species should always remain a secret, especially if it is a rare species, and even more so if it is threatened or endangered, to avoid attracting crowds that can disturb this intimacy.

2. Silence

Silence is paramount, whether you’re in motion or simply observing. Shouting to catch the attention of an animal, imitating birdsong to attract a bird, or mimicking an animal call in order to elicit a behavior so you can observe or photograph an animal is not okay. Why not? Because when you disturb an animal, you distract it, making it (and its young) more vulnerable to danger. You may also cause the animal to pointlessly expend its energy by responding to your call or moving around to locate the source of the sound. Silence gives you the added advantage, not only of respecting wildlife, but also of increasing your odds of sighting an animal, for a longer period and in a more meaningful way.

Julie Audet | © Sépaq
Julie Audet | © Sépaq

3. The Environment

No wildlife sighting or photograph is worth damaging the environment for. When out in nature, try to create as little impact as possible. If there’s a visual obstacle preventing you from getting a good look, simply accept the fact without taking any action likely to destroy or alter the site. Don’t worry, a better opportunity is sure to present itself. And of course, never leave behind any waste.

In some places, including in Québec’s national parks, it is forbidden to venture off the trails. This is in order to protect zones where vegetation is fragile or in the process of regeneration. These sectors may also be off limits to protect the nesting, breeding, resting, or feeding areas of specific species. By letting nature regenerate, you help maintain its balance.

4. Safety Zone

To observe wildlife in a fulfilling and ethical manner, it is crucial to keep a comfort and safety zone between yourself and the animal. Binoculars and telephoto lenses are essential tools for creating this physical distance. They allow you to observe wildlife discreetly, while offering a much more rewarding glimpse into the animals’ natural behavior.

Another thing to remember is that an animal that feels threatened or trapped can behave in an unexpected and aggressive, even dangerous, manner. Some animals may also be more vulnerable, because they have limited defense mechanisms. Handling these species (amphibians and reptiles, for example) or staging your photos of them can cause enormous stress on the animals.

Regardless of the species, if the animal flees, it is because it feels uncomfortable or threatened. In this case, no further attempt should be made to approach it. If you force an animal to expend its energy by chasing it, you are depriving it of the reserves it needs to hunt, feed, or protect its young. The stress this creates on the animal can make it more vulnerable and place it in danger. It can also spur the animal to relocate its babies, and sometimes even abandon them altogether. During mating season, it is all the more important to respect this principle, and to remain discreet near dens and nests.

Julie Audet | © Sépaq
Julie Audet | © Sépaq
Julie Audet | © Sépaq

5. Feeding

this has a negative impact on them. Every species has its own nutritional needs, which vary depending on the season, the climate, and their way of life. Animals are equipped to find everything they need in nature. And in fact, some foods humans may be tempted to feed them are ill-suited: not only do they alter the animal’s natural behavior, they can also cause malnutrition, disease, and even death.

One of the impacts of feeding animals is habituation, which can lead to dependency on humans, i.e., the animals gradually lose their survival instincts and abilities, and come to associate humans with food. Their natural wariness declines, and may even disappear entirely, heightening their exposure to danger. This may prompt animals to roam closer to cities and towns, and to travel on roads, causing an increase in the presence of wildlife in urban areas. The result is a higher risk of collisions and fatal accidents, as well as an increase in encounters with certain unpredictable, threatening, invasive, or destructive species. There is also the added risk of the spread of disease and overpopulation. In many cases, these animals end up having to be captured.

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On a small scale, some human behaviors in nature might seem inoffensive and inconsequential. But when they’re repeated on a daily basis by thousands of people, the cumulative effect can be very damaging for the environment. The secret to optimizing the benefits of nature and increasing your odds of amazing wildlife sightings is to adopt a respectful and sensitive attitude.

Nature photography is a fantastic hobby. Feel like giving it a try? Here are a few tips and tricks to get started.

Julie Audet

About Julie Audet

Passionate about animals and nature, it's with her lenses that Julie Audet likes to capture and share the moments she encounters during her outings. The unique vision of nature that she presents in her photos is very personal and sensitive. Her pictures are often described as a form of poetry, since she knows how to shine emotions in every environment she captures.

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