Ethical Photography


There's no doubt that red squirrels are one of the most photogenic animals in the UK. These charismatic little mammals are delightful to watch, and their antics provide entertainment for hours. They are extremely easy to tempt with food and will quickly lose their fear of humans once they create the association.

In certain places in Northumberland, feeders and food stations have become well known to the public and have turned into a magnet for photographers. This has led, on occasions, to large quantities of food such as peanuts being deposited to entice the squirrels to visit and be photographed at close range. Sometimes they have been enticed to perform stunts through placing food in strategic objects or positions. A common shot is one of a squirrel taking food from a person's hand.

This may well appear harmless but in fact it is far from being so. Wild animals should not be habituated to that extent - it is counterproductive and although cute and appealing, it is totally unnatural. Unregulated feeding just to get photographs causes lots of problems - it encourages rodents who are themselves disease vectors and it also attracts grey squirrels, who will drive the reds away and pass on the deadly pox virus. Squirrel pox virus is carried by grey squirrels, who are immune to it. A red squirrel is unlikely to survive and there is only one confirmed case of a non-fatal infection. It is highly contagious, and can be transmitted by a third party, so in theory of a person is in contact with an infected but as yes asymptomatic animal, then goes on to touch other animals or surfaces that animals may meet, the disease could well be transmitted.

Another problem is the type of food that is put out. Peanuts are a favourite and easily obtainable, but they are not good for red squirrels unless supplemented by a source of calcium, such as a cuttlefish bone or antler. Peanuts can also carry a fungal contamination called aflatoxin, which can be fatal.

All feeders should be routinely disinfected daily. This is seldom, if ever, carried out in those public places that are favoured by photographers who provide food.

Feeders should be placed away from public access to prevent excessive numbers of people visiting them for the purposes of photography. Is it worth disrupting the natural behaviour of a wild animal just to get a few likes on social media? That's a question for a person's own conscience. It's a sad fact of modern-day life that people will flock to a location to take photos for fleeting social media acclaim. Few consider the consequences to the wildlife, be it fauna or flora.