Ethical Wildlife Filmmaking

Wildlife Filmmaking is one of those things that has the power to make people fall in love with the beauty of nature. It’s an imperative tool to encourage the urge to protect wildlife and in today’s world, it can be mostly done by capturing Nature in its honest manner.

Filmmakers have fantastic means and possibilities to find the animals they desire to capture. But at the same time, wild animals are facing several threats to their survival. Climate change, loss of habitat, illegal trading and poaching, overfishing have caused a devastating deterioration of these animals.

What is Ethical wildlife filmmaking?

According to National Geographic photographer, Beverly Joubert “The ethics of photography are the same as the ethics of life, and all revolve around respect,”, who has spent decades photographing African wildlife.

Photographers and Filmmakers who genuinely love the idea of nature at its best, at its honesty, those who don't seek the social media’s gratification and acceptance- need of a perfect shot of an animal even though it requires to hurt the animals in some way or other, always use ethical ways only. So if the right people come together they can end the jeopardizing ways of unethical filmmaking. Many filmmakers apparently don’t even think about their influence on wildlife and may perceive animals just as their ‘models’.They probably don’t even consider the fact that their actions could cause stress to an animal and can even hurt it extremely. Though there is no manual, there are a few basic principles that can help in this.

A high amount of people or vehicles crowding around an animal in its natural habitat or provoke it into doing something. It results in enormous stress and obstructs the animal’s natural behaviour, like hunting for its prey or feeding its babies. And in the case of huge animals like Elephants or tigers can make them even more dangerous and can end in a disastrous way for the observers.

A flock of tourists try to photograph a Tiger. The presence of humans can disturb an animal’s capability to engage in natural behaviours.

Filming of rare animals and birds which appear only during night time is surely important but using the spotlighting technique by using high powered flashes can result in permanent blindness of some animals like nightjar, lorises and owls which have very sensitive eyes. Hence, such animals should be left at peace or filmmakers can use as much diffusion as possible that does not harm their eyes and can also use thermal imagery or night vision cameras to capture them.

A nocturnal animal captured with the help of high powered lights

The best way of being kind to a wild animal is by accepting and honouring its wildness. This gets compromised if they get habituated with humans providing them food just to take a picture. Some predators like wolves, bears along with other raptors seem to get comfortable after some tries of giving them food and it may result in aggressive behaviours towards fellow humans and when this happens the agencies are likely to kill them to refrain from some unfortunate happenings. Similar is the case with sea animals like whales or wild fish. If provided with food, which they surely will come for, the proper ways of their hunt of prey isn't filmed very well and they may attack (bite) the humans thinking they will receive food or mistake their fingers and other body parts for food which is dangerous and life-threatening.

Photographer Brian Skerry captured this great white shark swimming in waters off the Neptune Islands, in South Australia. Chumming, or baiting sharks with fish, allows divers to see them in the wild, but the long-term impacts on shark behaviour are unknown.

Some wild birds can be captured by using pre-recorded bird sounds which lures them into coming nearer to the Photographer. Researches have revealed that this can cause stress to birds. It implies that acknowledging such a call may result in severe energy costs for the bird, disrupt social systems and this can even result in existing pair’s break-ups. Doing this during a breeding season is bad for males as it distracts them from courtship and nest guarding.

Using Audio players to lure birds into capturing them

Chasing less dangerous animals or birds till they stop to capture them is a bad system of filmmaking since it exhausts the animal to perform other activities, even to escape from predators and brings stress to them. This needs to be avoided and one who does this shouldn't be regarded as a nature Photographer in any way.

Wild asses get chased in the Rann of Kutch and this can make them tired and hence get preyed on easily

These are just some of the fundamental principles if acted upon makes a point of beginning. It’s up to the filmmakers to develop common sense and kindness into their usage. One can always make a mistake, but great are the ones who later aims to be consistently empathetic and compassionate towards the wildlife. It is up to them to take care of the wildlife and capture them beautifully honestly and respectably.

For us these are just pictures of the wildlife; but to a wild animal, every single moment is about survival.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store