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 .