A Message For Herpers
I've been taking photos and video of wildlife ever since I learned how to use a camera. Needless to say, it's been a while. I also enjoy viewing the photography and film that others put out and one of my favorite things to do is watch herping videos. I rarely get any free time but on the rare occasion I'm able to binge watch some good old YouTube vids of people finding turtles, snakes and other creatures in some cool places. Being a major fan of the famous New Jersey pine barrens and practically living in them, I absolutely love videos that take place there. Northern pine snakes, spotted turtles, eastern box turtles, pine barrens tree frogs and so much more grace these neat little herping films put together by people that are not unlike myself.
Recently while watching some of these videos I found myself growing a bit concerned. We live in a world where it's very hard to trust anyone these days and when it comes to precious wildlife, we absolutely must be as careful as we possibly can to not give up the exact locations we find species at. In one particular video a simple, dilapidated structure in the background completely gave up the place the person was in. I knew immediately where they were at the time of them finding the snakes they were filming.
For me, this was extra bothering because it's a place my family and I like to frequent to see some of the very same reptiles shown in the video. Luckily for these protected and declining species they're safe with us knowing where they are but that's not often the case. By revealing the location of them, the wrong individual or wrong crowd may be drawn in. This is actually more common than one might think. People looking to take the easy way out by poaching wildlife instead of going through the motions of legally obtaining them are usually the ones that end up in these sacred places. It's one of the reasons why we just don't see these creatures in high numbers anymore in several areas where they were once numerous.
Now, from what I could tell in this video the individual filming was innocently photographing and recording the animals in it, not taking them or harming them in any way, shape or form. Each specimen was safely released exactly where it was found. Still, that's not the point of this blog. I'm looking to convey how crucial it is that you do not include something in your work that will give up the location you're in. This can be anything from a street sign to an old, abandoned building or even a particular, natural landmark. An oddly broken tree can be more revealing than you may realize. State parks, national wildlife refuges and other areas that us humans legally and purposely visit often sport their own methods of protecting wildlife. Rangers, game wardens, cameras and plenty of warning signage are typically in place to scare off a potential poacher but it's the more remote places we need to really protect because it's possible that no one is religiously watching over them.
Landscape shots like panoramic ones are of course breathtaking and impressive but look closely at them before you share them to social media or in a forum. I like to focus mainly on the wildlife I'm targeting with the camera and by zooming in as much as possible, you can cut out things that might give the site away. Anytime you're capturing a moment in nature you should be conscience of what else you might be including in the footage. The good news is that you can always edit your work and crop out something that you don't want in it. Programs like Adobe Photoshop can even allow you to do "the impossible" by enabling you to blur things out or even cut out an image only to place it on a completely different background. Sure that isn't natural or what you're typically going for when trying to capture an image of an animal in its wild environment but in some cases it can be helpful in keeping where the animal was found a secret.
Of course there are other issues that can come into play such as location services being on or the presentation GPS coordinates but perhaps the most common way for poachers to locate an area is by taking the background of an image or video into account. If a turtle is crossing the road and a street sign or mile marker is in it, just crop it out before sharing it. By doing that alone you may have just saved the animal its conspecifics in that very habitat from being stolen. Some of these animals are highly coveted and like I said, there are some who unfortunately choose to take the easy way out, having no regard for them or the wild spaces they live in.
All I'm trying to say is, be smart. It's so exciting to be in nature and come across a turtle, snake, frog, bird or mammal of some kind that we can record or take a photo of. The growing concern is that so many people accidentally reveal the special haunts they're found in. They have absolutely no clue that they just openly invited others to find them there as well. Some of the worst things imaginable have transpired through good intentions so it's up to us as nature lovers to find that happy medium in being able to record nature while safeguarding it at the very same time. When it comes to something as sensitive as turtles, we could be saving entire populations from extirpation in areas just by being extra cautious of what's in the media we choose to post about them. Social media platforms are an incredible way to educate the world about wildlife but they are also a major doorway to making contact with the wrong crowd.
Use your head, be one with nature, enjoy it from a respectful distance and always protect it.
The ultimate protection can start with you being alert to what's in your photos and videos.