Since it’s World Wildlife Day this week (3rd March), we’re taking a look into the ethics and conduct of wildlife filmmaking!

As a filmmaker or documentarian, with telling any story comes a level of responsibility. In order to help audiences understand something better, it’s imperative to share reliable facts and information. However, in the name of entertainment, some aspects of a topic are often distorted. This can especially be the case in wildlife documentaries.

Reality or Fiction?

The accurate sharing of natural history stories is important for informing how people interact with wildlife. The misrepresentation of certain species or animal habits can have detrimental impact on the animal. For example, how tigers in India can be portrayed as entering villages and posing a threat, whereas, in reality, the expansion of human dwellings has meant people encroaching on the tiger’s habitat.

In terms of reality and fiction, it’s important to remember, as viewers, to not believe everything we see. However, is a programme is put forth as educational, we tend to take what is presented as read. We shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if shots have been heavily manipulated, or if crafty editing has manufactured the outcome of something like a lion chase, or bursting river.

Animal Welfare

A large part of wildlife filmmaking is interacting with or working around wild animals. This is what makes the whole thing particularly dangerous and delicate. Animals are unpredictable, can scare easily, and react in a number of ways.

The simple act of setting up camp and using lots of camera equipment in a creature’s environment can be enough to cause damage. Upsetting an animal’s familiarity in its home can lead to unusual behaviours, that could potentially lead to it harming itself. Equally, stress caused to animals by unusual human presence can lessen reproductive success, which is incredibly damaging to endangered species. Because of this, it’s incredibly important to be mindful of your own impact when making your own wildlife documentary or film.

Code of Conduct

In order to protect wildlife and the natural world, the BBC and Filmmakers for Conservation have outlined codes to be adhered to when engaging in wildlife filmmaking.


  1. Always place the welfare of the subject above all else.
  2. Ensure that your subjects are not caused any physical harm, anxiety, consequential predation or lessened reproductive success by your activities.
  3. Don’t do anything that will permanently alter the natural behavior of your subject. Be aware that habituation, baiting, and feeding may place your subjects at risk and may be lethal.
  4. It is unacceptable to restrict or restrain an animal by any means to attract a predator.
  5. Subjects should never be drugged or restrained in order to alter their behavior for the sole purpose of filming.
  6. Be aware of and follow all local and national laws regarding wildlife where you are filming.
  7. Be courteous to your contributors (give appropriate credit where it is due). Whenever possible give copies of the finished program, a copy of a long edit of an appropriate scene, and/or publicity photographs to the people who helped you.
  8. Images or script that give an audience abnormal, false or misleading information about a subject or its behavior should be avoided.
  9. Always research your subject prior to filming.

Guidelines for Working in the Field

  1. Restore all sites to their original state before you leave (for example: tie back rather than cut vegetation).
  2. Be aware and take precautions, as some species will permanently quit a site just because of your odor.
  3. Keep film, video equipment, and crew members at a distance sufficient to avoid site or subject disturbance.
  4. Night shooting with artificial lights can require precautions to avoid making the subject vulnerable to predation.
  5. Be prepared to meet unexpected conditions without damaging the environment or subject. Be especially prepared and deal with any people attracted by your activities as they could put the subject at risk.
  6. Be aware that filming a den or nest site could attract predators.
  7. The use of tame or captive animals should be acknowledged. If so, ensure the subject receives proper care; the subject’s trainer or custodian should always be present during filming.