Mountain Nature Network's Guide to Ethical Wildlife Viewing

We all want to see animals! Mountain Nature Network is here to help you learn the skills of an expert naturalist. A true naturalist is not just someone that knows where and when to find a specific animal or bird, but someone who also knows how to enjoy the animal without increasing habituation or risking the safety of the viewer - or the animal. 

Habituation is an incremental process. It begins with an animal having an interaction with humans during which there is no negative consequence. As an example, a vehicle stopped alongside a highway may not harm the animal, but it may slightly reduce its natural fear of humans. This simple act may allow the next vehicle to approach a little closer before the animal shows its fear. Multiply this by the numbers of vehicles traveling mountain highways and you can get an idea of the dangers of incremental habituation. 

Banff and Jasper townsites have become famous for their urban elk population. This classic example of habituation has been extensively covered in publications such as National Geographic. Once habituation has occurred, it is very difficult to remedy. 

Do not approach the animal. Stay at least three bus lengths from any large ungulate and twice as far from bears, cougars, wolves or other sensitive species. 

Do not try to entice the animal to approach you. Avoid trying to convince an elk or deer to move in closely so that you can get a photograph. This increases the level of habituation, not to mention places you in physical danger. Even seemingly docile elk, deer and bighorn sheep can cause you serious harm should they lash out defensively.

Do not get out of your vehicle. If you see an animal, stay in your vehicle. Stopping your car along a busy highway risks more than just habituation. There have been many near catastrophes caused by tourists stopping in the middle of busy highways to watch an elk or bear. Only stop when it is safe to do, and never get out of your vehicle. If you truly wish to reduce habituation, avoid stopping to watch animals. Slow down, enjoy the brief encounter, and continue on your way. You will be doing the wildlife a favour and helping to keep our wildlife wild.

Buy a post card. It will likely be better than any photograph you would be able to get on your own. 

All Material Ward Cameron 2005



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