Code of conduct for mammal watching

The recent thread on the use of small mammal traps reminded me of several conversations that I have had with people over the past year or so about the need for a code of conduct for mammal watchers in the same way as many birding organisations around the world already have codes of conduct for their members.

With the increased enthusiasm for obtaining photos of everything people see in order to post them on social media some local guides seem to be pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in order to get their clients the perfect photograph. In many cases this is to the detriment of the animal’s welfare. I have noticed this when travelling independently, and when leading tours have had to ask local guides/drivers to back away from animals on more than one occasion and to point spotlights away from the animal’s eyes.

Many aspects of mammal watching, e.g. small mammal trapping, spotlighting and visiting bat caves, are potentially even more invasive than most aspects of birding although at least mammal watchers rarely resort to the use of tape luring.

Having discussed this with Jon Hall, Phil Telfer and John Wright who are regular contributors to this site, Nigel Goodgame who has had similar experiences to me while leading tours and Jeff Blincow who is co-authoring the forthcoming South American mammal guide with me, I have put together a first draft of a code of conduct for travelling mammal watchers. Jeff and I will be including something along the lines of this in the book.

While many people using this site adopt best practice as a matter of course it is useful to have a point of reference which we can hopefully use to encourage others to also adopt higher standards. This is just a first draft and some people may feel that it is rather restrictive but the interests of the animal should always come first.

We would be keen to receive constructive feedback so that we can produce a final version for the site.

Code of conduct for the travelling mammal watcher



  • Colin Cook

    Your code of conduct states “Traps should be checked at gaps of no more than every 4-5 hours and should not be left
    This will make small mammal trapping in Australia very difficult, as most of our species are nocturnal. That said, most states in Australia require permits and animal ethics committee approval before it can be legally undertaken. This should ensure that trapping procedures are suited to the local species welfare.

  • Nick waterstraat

    I might consider a stipulation to exercize caution in publicly reporting sensitive species or denning sites for uncommon species. My general thoughts on this is “pm for details” is appropriate.

    I might also consider points adressing good ambassadorship.

    You’ve included a point on trespassing, but maybe we should also have something more general about respecting local landowners. When wildlife watchers become a nuisance, the wildlife they are watching can also become a nuisance in their eyes.

    I also think at some point we need to accept that being a responsible naturalist requires being a responsible environmentalist, which includes considerations toward lifestyle, travel, diet, and obeying local rules on eg. Campfire bans, campsite limits, leash/dog regulations, off-road vehicle bans, etc. I’m not advocating any particular diet or lifestyle choices, be we should all be taking a hard look at the choices we are making even when we aren’t in the field.

  • tomeslice

    Thank you for this, Richard!
    I agree 100% (even though I must say I may have, at times, due to over-excitedment, veered off a little. But I will remember to keep the animal warefare at the top of my priorities)

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Making a code of conduct that would work in all regions is more difficult when it seems. For example, some countries have “right to roam” laws that specifically state you don’t have to ask for the landowner’s permission before trespassing. In other countries the same approach is an unwritten tradition. When you do have to ask for permission, it might take more than a week to find the landowner and contact him (I had to do it regularly when I worked with whooping cranes in Louisiana, it was a nightmare).
    Many bats totally ignore flashes but are freaked out by red light. I’m planning to experiment with other colors but haven’t yet.
    Hibernating bats in torpor are less sensitive to disturbance than active ones.
    The main reason people shine bright lights onto animals is to focus their cameras. Has anybody tried focusing lasers? How easy it is to avoid hitting the eyes accidentally with them?
    Generally, there seems to be almost no published data on the effects of bright lights and flashes on the eyes of nocturnal animals. From my experience, small owls and nightjars fly normally after being banded in bright light or photographed with a flash. Camera trapping studies use flashes apparently without any permanent effect on the animals’ vision. On the other hand, there are observations (see Schipper’s paper in Small Carnivore Conservation 36, 2007) that some mammals quickly change their behavior to avoid camera traps using flashes, so they probably cause some discomfort.
    Checking traps every 4-6 hours is a perfectly reasonable rule; in most locations it means simply that you have to check them around midnight and pick up at dawn. Leaving traps open after dawn is virtually never a good idea: they overheat almost instantly if in sunlight, and catch and kill birds often. Pitfall traps have to be checked as often as possible, because animals in them die or get eaten very quickly. There are places where you have to check traps much more often because of heavy predation risk, fire ants, or rapidly changing weather. For example, in parts of Siberia you have to check pitfall traps every hour or all birch mice would be eaten by shrews.
    One thing I think should be added is preventing disease transmission. All traps must be thoroughly sterilized before being used at a new location, even if it’s just a few kilometers away. It’s better to sterilize them after every use by boiling and/or placing into bleach solution for twenty minutes. You should always boil or heat to 120 C your shoes and clothing after cave visits (remember what happened with white-nose syndrome!) and after handling any wild animals. I sterilize my clothes and shoes after every long-distance trip even if I didn’t touch anything, just in case. Also, clean your shoes and clothes of seeds before and after every walk in the wild – not just to prevent spreading invasive weeds, but also to make sure you don’t carry any plant pathogens.
    Finally, get a thermal imager! It allows you to scale down use of traps and bright light dramatically. There are now scopes costing around US$700, that’s less than almost everybody’s photo gear.

  • CharlesHood

    This is a great discussion. In addition to the points above, I wanted to challenge the assertions here that one should only use traps or bat nets if authorized by having been issued the required licenses.

    For many users of this site, for things like bat netting, we lack the professional credentials to be certified. Or even if I were able to do it for site x (let’s say a pond in California), that permit would not cover me a mile away, once I crossed the border into Nevada. I say to act ethically and let your actions be your authority, not to rely on the magic power of a certificate. I bring that up for the simple reason that certificated personnel make mistakes too. Anybody remember Arizona’s jaguar, Macho B, killed in 2009 because a licensed researcher messed up? (Killed how, exactly? There was an in-house cover-up, so details remain unclear. Perhaps due to an illness vectored by the urine used as bait? The animal was trapped, collared, and then died, and a lawsuit to publicize the details was unsuccessful.)

    I used to work nights washing dishes in Sequoia National Park, and can verify that the professional staff in trying to deal with problem bears (bears I had reported, and now wish I had not) overdosed them almost fatally. I hope the comatose bear I helped carry to the truck later recovered, but it was not looking good.

    There’s a further implication in this document that trapping rodents for a research project is allowable, but to do so for a list is not. I think listing overlaps with basic range distribution research in most places, given how little we know. I’m working on two papers now that will relate to bats but which came from a listing trip to Nicaragua. I just don’t see the divide as being that clean, and speaking as somebody who is inside Academia daily, there is careerism even in so-called “pure” research. And even if all researchers are selfless and perfect, there are not enough of these heroes to go around. I know somebody with property adjacent to an undisclosed USA national park, and he wanted a basic survey to get a sense of how wildlife was using his land, so he would cause the least harm as he removed rubbish from a pond and created a much-needed fire lane. No certificated biology staff wanted to help. So if some unlicensed trapping and brief bat netting happened… well, since that is illegal, I can’t talk about it… but the knowledge will be put to good use. Twice I also trapped for a few hours in order to do ecology education for rural homeowners. One lives near Mono Lake in California and one near Taos in New Mexico, and it was that kind of thing, “Don’t kill all mice: learn to appreciate them. See how cute they are?” Zoos have their own in-house animal ambassadors, but in the field one has to make do with the nature at hand. I paid a “seed tax” (an offering to the God of Rodents?) as I let them go.

    Last, in the document title (“travelling mammal watcher”) and in bullet 1 for small mammal trapping (“trapping abroad”), there is a lack of context. “Abroad” as a term depends on one’s origins: ace mammal lister and general nice guy, Phil T, is “abroad” when he visits California, while I am abroad when I am in the UK. Ethics are ethics; being abroad or not doesn’t change how we should act. (Or is the assumption that at home we’re all nice blokes, but abroad, revved up by the lure of the list, we get a bit over-excited and do things we shouldn’t?) I heard of a bird tour to Cuba whose guide and clients were all men. They all agreed to hire prostitutes for the duration of the tour — one lady per gent — and to swear a vow of secrecy about this when they returned. I always wondered about the story… after all, separate from the ethics, if you’re birding hard, who even has time for that kind of dalliance?

    Charles Hood

    • Colin Cook

      Charles et al,
      I can see a few problems with your acceptance of trapping without permits.

      1. Trapping for only presence is doable in Australia. I belong to a field naturalists club and our trapping permit only allows for catch and release after identification, with length and weight measurements permitted. No sampling or any other invasive procedures are allowed. When we enter our data into the relevant databases, we are required to link it to our permit number, so there is a cross check that the data collected has been done so under approval. While you would be able to conduct trapping without a permit (as long as you weren’t actually caught in the act by a ranger), your use of the data may be restricted.

      2. “I also trapped for a few hours in order to do ecology education for rural homeowners”
      You can do this with camera traps. The Landcare network I’m involved in has a set of cameras we deploy on the properties of members, so we can find out what fauna is in the area and they can find out what is living on their place and help protect them. This may not fulfil the need of some watchers who want to “see” the animal, not just get a photo of it, but it depends on what the objective of your mammal surveys is.

      3. “Ethics are ethics; being abroad or not doesn’t change how we should act.”
      True, but lack of local knowledge could cause problems, both for you and the fauna. With the broad scope of contacts available these days, why not try to collaborate with locals so that you can work under their permits and have access to a font of local knowledge as well. For instance, there are groups set up just to organise volunteers for research field work ( There is also a large number of field naturalists groups doing surveys (

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Among Cuban birds, only two endemic species are nocturnal, and both are usually viewed during daytime, so unless you are into mammals one way or another, there’s nothing to do at night.

  • Aniket

    I largely agree and most of the points are common sense, although I guess every species and location is different, so its hard to have a one-size-fits-all. On the subject of light, a camera’s flash output varies dramatically depending on the distance of the subject, iso, aperture, etc, so this can be reduced by the photographer by say, increasing the iso and shooting wide open. Further, what people often forget is that its the change in brightness that can harm, or is at least unpleasant, to an animals eyes, rather than the amount of light per se. Ie if you have had your torch on a subject in a tree for a little while, and then you take a photo, its probably not as bad as if you took a photo from pitch black darkness, as the subject’s pupils will have already constricted to adapt to the lighter conditions.

  • Brett Hartl

    There should be a clearer recognition that endangered species (defined either by a nation’s law or the red list) should not be subject to the same level of harassment as other mammal species. The U.S. Endangered Species Act prohibits the harassment of all threatened and endangered animals, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act goes further prohibits harassment even when the only impact is potential disturbance that changes behavior. These policies make a great deal of sense for any mammal species that is faced with a substantial risk of extinction, and should be followed elsewhere around the world regardless if the nation has or does not have a permit scheme or adequate laws.

    I question whether baiting of predators in any context is acceptable, especially highly intelligent species that may learn to associate humans with food even when we think we are being clever in our techniques. I used to work as a park ranger in Glacier National Park, and bears can learn that humans are a potential source quite easily. If the possible consequences to baiting wildlife is that it could result in that animal being killed as either a nuisance or a threat to human safety, there is no reason to bait it in the first instance.

  • Benny Voorn

    We have at the birding observation site in NL a rule never to publish pictures of nests. Maybe that is also a good thing to consider in de code of conduct for mammals? E.g. if you publish a report or on social media, but maybe also not mention nest/ den site locations in reports.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Some nocturnal animals apparently don’t have the ability to constrict their pupils quickly. I’ve seen many photos taken after long exposure to flashlight and still showing fully dilated pupils.
    That said, there’s no potential mechanism of causing permanent damage to the retina that I can think of, unless you use a nuclear-powered torch that can actually cause a thermal burn. The worst that can happen is a temporal loss of vision until pigment levels are restored. It does subject the animal to higher risk of predation, of course, but only briefly. There is also a risk of literally pointing the animal out to predators; I’ve heard a story of a saw-whet owl snatched by a great horned owl while being photographed. This is a very common problem in underwater photography; in many places fish have learned to follow divers into underwater caves and use their lights to gorge themselves on defenseless cave shrimp.
    In Japan, nighttime flash photography of endangered species is banned, so lodges feeding Blakiston’s fish-owls install strobe lights. These lights provide continuous ultra-fast flashes that are perceived by eyes as constant low-intensity light, but allow flash photography under certain settings. I don’t know if this system can be made portable.

  • Colin Cook

    Here’s a good source of some official guidelines.
    “Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened mammals
    Guidelines for detecting mammals listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”

  • Ralf Bürglin

    Great discussion! In general: Beware of exaggerated claims. If regulations seem to be exaggerated and not comprehensible, people don’t follow the rules.

    Example: “Stay on roads, trails and paths to keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.” This claim might be reasonable in general, but there are many exceptions. Especially in open environments like alpine areas, deserts and the tundra it often makes no sense to advice people to stay on trails, because there aren’t any and/or the impact on the environment is tenable (of course depending on the number of people).

    Another important issue: the impact of tourism. Mammal watchers in most cases are nothing else but tourists, who need airports, hotels, roads and other infrastructure – which impacts the environment. The pressure on many reserves in that sense is high. And of course it is hard to deal with a problem, when YOU ARE the problem. But why not invite mammal watchers to pass a remark in their reports and blogs for example concerning hotels that are built in the core area of reserves like I did in my High Tatras report this year.

    Ralf Bürglin

  • Colin Cook

    Trawled through my saved sites on ethics and photography (related to camera trapping, as there is a lack of ethical guidelines for that technique too).

    Royal Photographic Society code of practice for nature photography

    Conservation India guide to ethical wildlife photography

    Nature Photographers Network code of conduct

    North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) ethics guidelines

    The Photographer’s Guide to Ethical Wildlife Photography

  • John Dixon

    The code of practice should begin with “familiarise yourself with and obey the laws of the country in which you are operating”.

    After that you can start talking about ethics if you like: but the code of practice should stick to field matters and not start preaching about lifestyles and other irrelevancies or nobody will read or use it.

  • Richard Webb

    Thanks for all the responses so far. I’m pleased the note has generated so much interest and Jon Dixon’s post summarises things very well. This is about mammal watchers’ behaviour in the field not lifestyle choices and it is important to familiarise yourself with laws of the country you are in. Colin Cook’s attachment on the 7 principles of Leave No Trace is also extremely pertinent to this discussion.

    Colin Cook is right about small mammal trapping under normal controlled conditions. What the code is trying to do is encourage people to be aware of the different criteria that may apply in areas that they don’t normally trap in. Vladimir highlighted the risks of leaving traps unattended after first light in hot climates but it is equally important to be aware of the risks of leaving traps unattended overnight in areas where overnight temperatures plummet, e.g. deserts in winter and the High Andes. I know of a number of examples of traps with frozen corpses in the morning and I know of at least one South African lodge that now bans small mammal trapping on its property because of this!

    On the spotlighting front mammals are naturally curious and keep watching us even when lights are directly targeted at them. We all know how we flinch when a bright light is shone in our eyes, what we don’t know is how much damage we are inadvertently causing to a mammal’s eyes by shining a light on it for too long. Vladimir is probably right that it causes no long term damage but there are certainly short term risks. I have myself seen a Pharoah Eagle Owl try to catch a Fennec Fox that we were spotlighting in Western Sahara.

    With regards to the point about staying on trails, paths etc this is primarily aimed at discouraging people from trespassing on private land and although potentially frustrating, the time it gets to permission to enter this land should be irrelevant, if it’s private it’s private. The point that Jon asked me to add about respecting locals, and that Nick also referenced, is pertinent here. I unfortunately know of examples of landowners destroying habitat due to the repeated trespassing on their land, albeit it by birders, but the principle is the same.

    In terms of areas where there is right to roam, or where the area is for example desert or montane habitat, without clear right of ways the position is slightly different but there are still issues that need to be considered. Some of these areas may well be subject to habitat management programs and as Colin Cook says these do need to be more appreciated. In addition wandering over such areas can disturb the habitat and species inhabiting it. I’ve lost track of the times that I have had to point out to people that they are standing only a few metres from a ground-nesting bird’s nest and have flushed the bird leaving the eggs and/or young exposed to predators. Most quickly move once they realise but it’s surprising how oblivious even the most skilled naturalist can be to what’s going on around them when focused on one particular target.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    One way to decrease mortality at low temperatures is to use wooden traps, like Russian zoologists do. Of course, wooden traps don’t fold and are generally not practical for people having to deal with airline luggage restrictions, but even putting a piece of plywood into the rear part of a folding Sherman helps small rodents survive.

    • Colin Cook

      “One way to decrease mortality at low temperatures is to use wooden traps, like Russian zoologists do. ”
      They are also cheaper to make than purchasing the metal ones. One of the requirements for our trapping permit is to place a big clump of bedding material in the trap. We use dacron filler, but have also used wood wool.

  • CharlesHood

    For land ownership and trespassing, I really like the idea of reminding everybody to be respectful of property and local customs, and, when possible, to engage in the nearest community by paying a fee or hiring a local guide. As a beginning and very poor birder, I know I didn’t do that often enough, eg in rural Costa Rica. In some instances, let’s say for example the massive ranches in the Great Basin of the USA West, I do think trespassing is a fairly victimless crime. To duck through the barbed wire fence to see a badger harms nobody. Indeed, given overly generous grazing leases, it would not take much application of Marxist theory to argue that it is the rancher who is trespassing on land that belongs to “us,” the people in general. The one time somebody took a shot at Jon Hall (and me, too, though I quickly ducked behind him and tried to look small) we were very much on public, not private, property. Some people’s sense of “private” may be expansive indeed.

    Charles Hood

    • Colin Cook

      “it would not take much application of Marxist theory to argue that it is the rancher who is trespassing on land that belongs to “us,” the people in general.”
      It would not take much of an extension of this idea to postulate that both the rancher and you are trespassing on land that belongs to the indigenous inhabitants.

      Just looking at maps defining private and crown (government owned in Australia) land won’t help you too much if the land is under varying management arrangements. A lot of crown land is under long term leases for grazing and mining use and a lot is now controlled by indigenous groups. This doesn’t always show on the map and rights to public access may have changed with the lease arrangement (and especially if now under indigenous custodianship). Regardless of where you are going, it’s always best to get permission from whoever is managing the land before undertaking any stuff.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Well, virtually all European-owned land in the New World is stolen land, and private ownership of land is an ethically questionable concept to begin with, but since our goal is to avoid provoking negative attitudes, I guess we’ll have to put up with it…
    P.S. Happy New Year everybody!

  • Colin Cook

    “To duck through the barbed wire fence to see a badger harms nobody. ”
    Not sure how other countries are doing this but Australian farming agencies have started implementing more stringent biosecurity procedures for farms, especially those with livestock. One of the requirements of the biosecurity plan is “Where reasonable and practical, the movement of people, vehicles and equipment entering the property are controlled and, where possible, movements recorded”. So having people hopping through the fence is a breach of biosecurity, especially if they have been doing it on other farms just prior. The farmer is going to get mightily pissed off if this has financial consequences for them.

  • Jurek

    I find these guidelines well-meaning but in many places not sensible.
    Some points here are clearly missing:
    – Photography: don’t follow animal which starts to withdraw, limit photographic sessions to one place. The most disturbing practice of photographers is to follow animals for hours to get better and better shots. Often the animal later disappears for days.
    – Publish your observations and publish photos or other evidence. Arguably the biggest contribution of animal watchers is documenting wildlife. This is the main reason why I would support mammal watching growing into a wider hobby. See an example what birdwatchers do in their surveys.
    – Good point is made by others that many amateurs (and not only amateurs) make stringing claims or mistakes in identification. This is either confusing or are unsure to interpret. Therefore I would add: publish description, photos and other evidence of species rare or hard to identify. Birdwatchers do it as a matter of course, and it is seen as a bad practice by itself to report a rare bird without an evidence.
    -Support protection of mammals and their habitat. By example of birdwatching, this is a single biggest contribution an amateur can make.
    – Report observed disturbance to wildlife and habitat, locally and internationally. Another big contribution of tourists is that they want habitat to be pristing, and can make hell internationally if they see destriction of wildlife.
    – I would also establish and make clear guidelines of trapping small mammals in a safe way. For example, placing rass or nest material and/or food in the trap can dramatically improve safety.
    However, some points are dubious:
    – ‘never enter private land without the landowner’s explicit permission’ – this is clearly Anglo-Saxon mindset. In much of continental Europe, and many countries elsewhere, private land is free to tresspass if you don’t directly trample crops etc. and unless there is (rare) no entry sign.
    – Spotlighting – many people seem to be very conscious of spotlighting, probably mostly people who do not know much about spotlighting. Few night animals are disturbed by spotlighting (mostly small cats and genets) although almost all night mammals are very disturbed by noise and other activities which spotlighters do as much as non-spotlighetrs.
    I would add:
    – watch for behavior of animals and stop if the animal looks away from light or runs away.
    – Stop spotlighting every few minutes for a minute or so, to give animals chance to escape if they are species which defensive reaction is freezing (like many rodents, loris etc.).
    – Baiting with food – why so sensitive? Feeding game animals is common and some ecotourist places started as game baiting places. Arguably, establishing feeding station is often the least disturbing way of showing mammals to people.
    – And one more thing. Mammalwatching is rare activity. I would not try to be more holy than Pope. In all cases, think clearly how much disturbance is done by other people, and don’t get paranoid how much you can do. I know many places worldwide where tourists are strictly controlled (often too controlled) but damage done by locals is not. So I see no sense and no ethics in tourists keeping to strict guidelines if e.g. locals freely wander with their cattle into a national park.


      Jurek, thanks, some very useful additions here but there are a couple of things I do disagree with.

      – In much of continental Europe, and many countries elsewhere, private land is free to tresspass if you don’t directly trample crops etc. and unless there is (rare) no entry sign.

      This might be true in some areas but there are large areas of the world where it isn’t and where landowners do not appreciate people wandering across their land uninvited. There are large areas of private land which are fenced off without signs. Would you want 5 people turning up and walking around in your garden without asking permission. I certainly wouldn’t. When mammal watching as with any other activity we should respect local people and their property. In my experience if you ask people they generally don’t object unless there is a good reason to do so, e.g. fear of disease being spread between crops.

      – Baiting with food – why so sensitive? Feeding game animals is common and some ecotourist places started as game baiting places. Arguably, establishing feeding station is often the least disturbing way of showing mammals to people.

      Baiting areas increases the likelihood of disease, increases the risk of predation and creates dependencies. Just because hunters bait animals doesn’t make it acceptable. I agree that properly run baiting stations can be a less disturbing way of showing people animals but I would equally argue if you want to watch tame mammals being fed you might as well just visit a zoo. Part of the fun of mammal watching is the challenge of finding and seeing difficult species well.

      – I know many places worldwide where tourists are strictly controlled (often too controlled) but damage done by locals is not. So I see no sense and no ethics in tourists keeping to strict guidelines if e.g. locals freely wander with their cattle into a national park.

      This goes back to my point of respecting locals and their properties which is one I know Jon particularly agrees with. We generally have no idea about the local agreements in place in some national parks. When parks are established some countries still permit locals to graze in those parks so some but not all of the locals are probably acting in accordance with the regulations. We as visitors are granted access to these parks and do have an obligation to respect the rules whether we like them or not and believe me I dislike many of them as much as you do whether it’s the ridiculous regulations in Gir Forest or not being able to spotlight in American parks. Just because we’re watching mammals doesn’t make us more entitled than others.

      • Colin Cook

        Richard, your last comment encapsulates a lot of the essence of ethical behaviour. I think that this, along with a common one from the birdwatching community (adapted by me for camera trapping), could serve as a simple, easily remembered guide to good behaviour.

        “The wellbeing of the animal and its habitat has a higher priority than the photograph.
        Just because we’re watching mammals doesn’t make us more entitled than others.”

        • Mattia from Italy

          I think this is actually the focal point: after the digital camera and social media revolutions, most people don’t travel for WATCHING and enjoy mammals, but just for PHOTOGRAPHS. And photographers, amateur photographers are probably the worst ones, have another kind of ethical sense than us. For most of them “no very good photos to show to friends” means “failure”.

          But, that said, Jurek is right: in 90% of cases the damages and disturbances are made by the locals, and not by tourists. For us, mammalwatchers, there must be just two firm points: respect rules and laws, and not create too much stress to the animals.

          Regarding the critical matters: for baiting, I don’t like this practice, and personally visit feeders only when is quite impossible to see that particular mammal in a more natural setting (e.g. Wolverine), and just for one or two nights, avoiding bear hides, wolves hides etc. For spotlighting I think the disturbance is here a bit overestimated, but of course is better not to point the light right in the eyes of mammals (and birds!), and to stop as soon as the animal begins to show signs of stress. For trapping: I’ve never trapped mammals, in the past I helped ringers, but I felt the stress created to small birds was very high. Don’t know if it’s the same for small rodents.

  • Rauno Väisänen

    Since many mammal species live mostly or only in protected areas, the following article may be useful when finalizing the code of conduct.


    Thanks Rauno, very helpful.


  • Jon Hall

    Thanks everyone – there are some great comments here. Really good discussion. I’m going to send Richard some suggestions that will try to pick up on a lot of these earlier comments. For me the overarching maxim is to “do more good than harm”. Almost any trip to watch wildlife can cause some disturbance, generate CO2 emissions, might stress animals and might have other impacts. I think its our responsibility to ensure that – on balance – we are a force for good, so we try to minimse the harm we do and maximise the benefits we generate: because the money we spend, knolwedge we gain, or awareness we generate might ultimately lead to those same animals we are watching being better protected. I would hope everyone’s conduct can be guided by that as a bottom line. Of course that leads to all sorts of different interpretations …. which we probably won’t be able to avoid in any case. I suspect though that there will be a great deal that we would all agree on and is a matter of common sense.

  • Jurek

    Let me explain more clearly with examples.
    General remark: to be blunt, mammal watching is very much novice hobby compared to bird watching. Birdwatching organizations have 100 years more experience and lots of properly done studies which conservation is most effective. They concentrate on habitat and fighting direct hunting. Mammal watchers should do well but follow experience of bird watchers and not try to reinvent the wheel.
    The biggest influence which mammalwatching can have is protection of habitat and fighting direct hunting or poaching of mammals. In comparison, it does not matter how many field mice one scares or not.
    @Private land
    Please accept that Britain and the USA are not average but close to the extreme end of excluding other people from private property.
    This topic is sensitive in Europe, because traditional land management is much more wildlife friendly. Introducing Anglo-Saxon style sings to keep of private property is often associated with changing land use to much more intensive and loss of wildlife populations.
    Bird protection organizations encourage feeding wild birds. Without any illusion that feeding common tits and finches contributes to conservation. It is simply a very effective way to develop interest in birds. For many shy mammals, properly done feeding is the only way to turn sporadic diehard mammal watching into a regular, predicatble tourism and increase income and popularity.
    While feeding may rarely transmit diseases etc., I think that decreased mortality from starvation and decreased disturbance to habitat during searching and flushing mammals at random outweighs the risk. The biggest advantage is popularity, of course.
    Besides, feeding mammals is already done by hunters and photographers, so the discussion on the topic is already solved. One may object to feeding brown bears in Finland and prefer to search for them in e.g. Poland. But wait – in Poland in Bieszczady, 1/3 of food of wild brown bears is actually food provided to deer and wild boar by hunters. Memo: next time one goes for a mammal finding trip to Bieszczady in Poland, the best strategy to see a brown bear may be hanging around the hunting feeders.
    @damage of other people and poorly organized wildlife protection.
    I see that one of first benefits of even sporadic mammal tourism is that tourists can act as watchmen, seeing and reporting damage to wildlife. For example, in 2000s in India, it was visiting tourists who noticed fall of Tiger populations. Local national park staff lived in an illusion that tiger populations were several times bigger than normal. The same is with sale of wild mammals as pets. Locals do it forever, it is foreign tourists who can make an outcry. While some courtesy personally makes sense, turing blind eye to poor wildlife protection because “locals surely know better” is not a good strategy.


      Sorry Jurek but I totally disagree with your comments about Private Land. It’s not an Anglo-Saxon thing and the there are large areas of Australia, New Zealand, South America (including Argentina, Chile and Brazil) and South Africa where unauthorised access is not appreciated just nas much as in the UK & USA. In fact the penalties for trespass in many countries are far worse than those for trespass in the UK. I myself have fallen foul of this in Uganda and know of others who have been thrown out of national parks in Thailand having entered private areas. Just because hunters and photographers bait doesn’t mean it’s right. We should be prepared to take a lead on this and not just follow bad practices. Brown Bears are easy to see in places such as Italy and Spain without going to commercial baiting sites or sites baited for hunting. You might not be able to get close enough for frame-filling photos but the results are just as satisfying. Finally nobody has suggested turning a blind eye to poor wildlife protection or that locals know better. I’m not really sure where the Anglo-Saxon references come from but If being Anglo-Saxon equates to having greater respect for other people and their property I’m glad to be Anglo-Saxon.

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