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Thread: Lights in the night.

  1. #1
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    Default Lights in the night.

    People who live around wilderness areas know the effects of light pollution on the movements and habits of nocturnal wildlife. Resorts and Hotels coming up in these areas are also becoming sensitive to this issue and are taking care to ensure that public lighting is subdued , well designed and not polluting.

    Public roads running through Protected Areas are being closed to traffic during the night so as to reduce the disturbance to wildlife. In no National Park or Protected Area in India are night safaris allowed. All safaris end at dusk and only begin after daybreak, with the afternoons being kept free from tourism. The idea being to make tourism as un – intrusive as possible.

    In the old days hunting was legal and governed by strict rules and codes of conduct. Wilderness areas were still difficult to access and hunting was by no means free from danger or excitement and the acquisition of a fine trophy was no easy task. Besides that it took great planning, logistics and days of hard trekking to reach the hunting blocks.

    All this changed with the arrival of the motorcar. Suddenly roads sprang up all over the place and most forests, save the real remote ones, became accessible to the casual traveler who owned a motorcar. This led to a general spurt in hunting and genuine hunters of the old school, who were also conservationists in their own way, were appalled and warned that easy access was diminishing India’s wildlife at an alarming rate.

    The arrival of better guns and spotlights was the next step. Now all the ‘hunter’ had to do was drive along a forest road safe and sound in his car. Point his spotlight all around and blast away at any pair of eyes that reflected back. Most of the time the animal would be disoriented and immobilized by the bright light.

    I strongly believe that today’s wildlife photographers are the modern avatars of the hunters of the old days. Both were driven by their love of wildlife, their skill and mastery over their equipment, the thrill of the chase and the final acquisition of a fine trophy. I am a wildlife photographer and I can state quite categorically that if I was born two generations ago I would have been a great hunter. In fact it was my childhood dream to be a big game hunter in Africa!

    Unfortunately wildlife photographers can also be divided into ethical and unethical ones. And it is also not surprising that the ethics of wildlife photography almost mirror those of hunting. In fact the rules, regulations, ethics and traditions of hunting are much stricter than that of wildlife photography and also, in my considered opinion, led to a closer relationship between the hunter and the pursued. There was genuine respect for the hunt and wildlife and it comes as no surprise that the first conservationists (as we know them today) were hunters.

    All this brings me to the question – what do you make of a wildlife photographer who drives along forest roads in the night with a spotlight and uses a flash to take photographs? Is there any difference between him and the unethical hunter of the old days? True the end result is only a photograph and not the death of the animal, but is it not intrusive? In this day and age, and taking into consideration the background given above, can it be considered ethical?

    These days I get this very strong feeling that I belong to another era, is that era in the past or future I am not too sure. Recently after seeing a photograph of a Tiger taken in exactly the same circumstances mentioned as unethical above, I put up this same question for discussion on the Forums of the photo sharing website on which the photograph appeared. I was looking forward to a healthy debate and exchange of views instead I find that the moderators chose to remove my post. Are we afraid to question ourselves or are some people so infallible that they can be considered beyond reproach?

    I therefore take the debate to you .

  2. #2
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    Your comparison of hunting and wildlife photography is ironic but quite apt.
    But I would not just classify hunters or photographers just ethical or un ethical.

    One could be a very ethical hunter / photographer , but if it is just trophies that one is after, its a very sad story. I have seen a distingushed 'tiger photographer' getting down from the machan showing us shots of an amazing bird he had never seen before. It was a chloropsis. It made me think about how many amazing wonders this person has missed by being in the jungles for years just looking for big game!

    I think ethics is important. but it is the bare minimum. I think we should see beyond trophy photography . Education would play an important role . With education , when the number of people who appreciate such trophy photography decreases, the spread of such photography itself will be controlled . One good step could be to give proper importance to images of nature other than big game on forums such as these. and to have a healthy discussion regarding the organism , its habits , observations etc..

  3. #3
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    I understand your pain as all of us know that most of the popular image sharing sites strictly against discussing conservation issues. They are mostly self adulatory and don’t want to disucss things that throws up questions. IndiaWilds will not push things under the carpet. It will question all of us and help in making a difference. We are humans and we can make mistakes. So we should always be ready to be questioned.

    I don’t agree with you that all the hotels and resorts are sensitive to the impact of lights on wildlife. The impact of lights on the Olive Ridley Turtles in disorienting them is well documented (ofcourse more of that in a separate thread). Smaller animals and birds get completely transfixed in bright lights. There are lot of hotels and private properties around Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Masinagudi area. One can see the impact of lights on wildlife. When lights of the hotels/resorts are on, one can see the herbivores grazing at a distance. When the lights are switched off, they come close to you. Most of the times, I have forced the hotel owners to switch off the lights to the horror of the guests.

    I agree with you regarding the code of ethics followed by hunters of yore. Ofcourse, there were a few black sheep among them too. However, those hunters who didn’t follow the etchics like not shooting a thirsty animal before it drinks water, not shooting an doe animal with fawns ie. Not shooting a mother with child, not shooting birds sitting on the ground etc are mostly frowned upon.

    With the increase in road cover and motor cars and spotlights, it became easier to shoot as well as photograph. Today, you can photograph animals from the “safe” confines of a car. I have seen photographers trying to whistle so that the tiger turns around its head or snarl. Photographers also try to block the path of a tiger by placing the jeep infront of the tiger when it is crossing the road. One can never imagine doing such things with a tiger on foot. Can you creep closer to an elephant and fire a blinding flash in complete darkness? If you can’t do it for the fear of your safety, then you should not also do it from the safe confines of a jeep.

    Photographers try to shoot wildlife in complete darkness using a flash as the main mode of light as they get lot of congratulatory messages when those images are posted in online photosharing sites. These images have no aesthetic value. Apart from posting in websites, I don’t think there is any use. So I agree with Vikram that wildlife photographers need to be educated.

    The BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest organised by BBC tells you that it is not important to capture an exotic species but is important to show the subject in a new perspective. So the chance of creating an image that depicts a rare behaviour or an unique perspective is easier when you are photographing subjects that are closer to your place. Infact, we can encourage members to upload photographs of common subjects like a deer, sambar, langur etc. Infact, a number of photographs of langur have won BBC awards. Lets try to educate people and help wildlife photography in spreading the message of conservation.

  4. #4
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    I am reproducing a report from BBC News on light pollution.
    Light pollution forms 'eco-traps'

    By Mark Kinver
    Science and environment reporter, BBC News

    Some species confuse large glass buildings with bodies of water
    An international team of researchers has found another form of light pollution that could have an adverse effect on wildlife.
    The scientists showed that as well as direct light sources, polarised light also triggered potentially dangerous changes in many species' behaviour.
    They added that road surfaces and glass buildings were among the main sources of this form of light pollution.
    The findings appear in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
    Co-author Bruce Robertson, an ecologist from Michigan State University, US, said polarised light from structures within the built environment overwhelmed natural cues that controlled animal behaviour.
    "Environmental cues, such as the intensity of light, that animals use to make decisions occur at different levels of severity in the natural world," he said.
    "When cues become unnaturally intense, animals can respond unnaturally strongly to them."
    As a result, the false cues could create an "ecological trap" for species attracted by the light.
    Double vision
    Dr Robertson said that water was the primary source of horizontal polarised light in the natural world, and that many animals - including birds, insects and reptiles - had highly developed polarisation vision.

    Insects, such as stoneflies, lay their eggs on asphalt instead of water
    This particular form of light played a key role in the animals' lifecycle, such as finding breeding and feeding sites, he added.
    A well documented example is the way that baby sea turtles rely on the direction of starlight and moonlight reflected off the water's surface in order to help them find the ocean when they emerged from their nests.
    Yet, there are examples of turtles in urbanised areas heading towards the brighter buildings and street lamps.
    Dr Robertson said that expanding urban areas meant that there were more structures and surfaces to confuse wildlife.
    "Any kind of shiny, black object - oil, solar cells, asphalt - causes problems," he explained. "The closer they are to wetlands, the bigger the problem."
    "Light from the sun is vibrating in all possible directions, but after bouncing off smooth flat surfaces, like water, it only vibrates in the horizontal direction; it has become polarised.
    "This is why polarised sunglasses make it easier for us to see on a bright day - they remove only the horizontally polarised light that reflects off water and roads," he told BBC News.
    Flying light
    The team of US and Hungarian researchers said that more than 300 species of insects were known to use polarised light as the primary source for navigation.

    Pollution from artificial light only tends to be a problem at night
    "This is used to search for suitable water bodies to act as feeding/breeding habitats," they wrote.
    "Because of their strong signature, artificial polarising surfaces - asphalt, gravestones, cars, plastic sheeting and glass windows - are commonly mistaken for bodies of water."
    The team added that "polarised light pollution" (PLP) differed from traditional forms of light pollution, called ecological light pollution (ELP) because it occurred at any time during the day.
    "Because ELP results from the incidence of visible light at times and places where it does not occur naturally, ELP is predominantly a night-time phenomenon.
    "In contrast, PLP can occur during both light and dark cycles in terrestrial environments."
    The study also suggested that PLP could also disrupt entire food webs if predators followed their prey into the urban "ecological trap", or if a generation of prey species was wiped out without reproducing.
    It added that PLP also had an impact on marine life: "When scattered light passed through the transparent body of small aquatic prey animals, its polarisation signature was altered, increasing the visual contrast.
    "Plankton feeders are adept at detecting zooplankton in the water column that would otherwise be transparent."
    But this hunting technique, it explained, caused problems for the feeders when they encountered marine litter.
    "Underwater plastic garbage is another source of PLP, and may prompt aquatic organisms into consuming inappropriate and dangerous items.
    "Turtles commonly ingest plastic, particularly transparent plastic bags, which have a polarisation signature similar to that of prey items they commonly target."
    Despite the growing human impact on certain communities of animals, the researchers suggested that the worst examples of PLP could be reduced.
    They recommended the use of alternative building materials or employing methods to mitigate the problem, such as adding white curtains to dark windows or adding white markings on road surfaces.
    Dr Robertson said the team's findings could offer conservationists an alternative way to deal with problematic species, such as insects destroying trees.
    "You may be able to create massive polarised light traps to crash bark beetle populations," he suggested.

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