Increasing Bad Behavior around Wildlife: Are More Regulations Needed?

Candice Gaukel Andrews September 29, 2015 51
According to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as endangered. Not only are they killed for their eggs, meat, shells and skin, they are vulnerable to accidental capture in fishing gear, habitat destruction and climate change. Hatchlings face dangers from predators as they make their way to the sea. ©Astrid Frisch/Karel Beets

According to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as endangered. Hatchlings, in particular, face threats from predators as they make their way to the sea. ©Astrid Frisch/Karel Beets

Witnessing any of nature’s great spectacles—such as the wildebeest migration of Africa, the wintering grounds of millions of monarch butterflies in Mexico or thousands of sea turtles coming ashore from the Pacific Ocean to lay eggs—is usually described by onlookers as nothing short of “awe-inspiring.” These natural events are treasures that belong to all of us who inhabit Earth.

But during the first weekend of September 2015 on Ostional Beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, those who came to watch one of these special events proved to be a problem for the animals they were there to see. A combination of good weather and a Facebook page advertising the happening drew a crowd that numbered in the thousands to watch as hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles crawled out of the ocean to lay their eggs in the black, volcanic sand.

Encouraged, no doubt, by many others doing the same thing, people began snapping Facebook-worthy selfies with the turtles, shooting other photos by using flash photography, perching their children on the turtles’ backs and trampling nests. Locals collected the eggs, a Costa Rican delicacy. Scared off, most of the ancient reptiles simply turned around and went back into the sea—without laying any eggs.

If this story is any indication, it seems like people are exhibiting increasingly bad behavior around wild animals. Is the world in need of more restrictions regarding where and when large groups can observe predictable natural phenomena?

Climate change, which alters sand temperatures, could mean more female sea turtles than male. ©Gavin Lautenbach

Climate change, which alters sand temperatures, could mean that more female than male sea turtles will be born. ©Gavin Lautenbach

Emboldened by the masses

Of course, the incident in Costa Rica isn’t the first time people have misbehaved in the outdoors in recent years. On August 2, 2014, a tourist from the Netherlands crashed his drone into a spring in Yellowstone National Park. And in the fall of 2014, a woman, desiring to post her outrageous acts on social media, drew graffiti on natural landmarks in eight national parks.

That kind of vandalism, however, was done by perpetrators who were alone or were with only a few other people. What happened in Costa Rica with the sea turtles was a crowd of people behaving badly. Some say that today there is a growing expectation that when you travel, the countries you visit are your personal amusement parks, with free access to all of their public places and native animals. Respect for nature and its processes is almost nil.

One country, at least, has decided to do something about it. According to an April 2015 article in the London Free Press, the Chinese government is making a strong effort to convince its citizens to behave themselves while traveling inside and outside the country. Recently, several Chinese tourists have made headlines with their disruptive behavior. Provincial and national authorities are going to start keeping track of those doing anything illegal or inappropriate while in other nations, and the China National Tourism Administration recently stated on its website that border control, customs officers, police and even bank credit agencies would be contacted if necessary. Believing that tourism reflects on the image of the Chinese people, the administration says that more “social supervision” of tourists is required.

Respectful by small group

In the case of Costa Rica and the sea turtles, it’s clear things had gotten out of control. While residents are legally allowed to harvest turtle eggs for consumption and sale, the locals may have been profiteering by charging entry fees to the beach, with no regard for the numbers being admitted. Some may even have been posing as official guides, when they had no experience. Costa Rica does have laws in place regulating tourists’ visiting of turtle nesting grounds.

When a large group of people in Costa Rica met sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, most of the ancient reptiles retreated into the sea—without laying any eggs. ©Colby J. Brokvist

Most sea turtles undergo long migrations—as far as 1,400 miles—between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. ©Colby J. Brokvist

Witnesses say that official guides were encouraging their groups to be respectful of the turtles. They sought to ensure groups stayed together, didn’t interfere with the nesting process and insisted leaving the beach at dusk.

In any event, the Costa Rican government is working on changes before the next arrival of the sea turtles, expected on October 4, 2015. They hope to double the number of police officers and security guards, and even bring in the Coast Guard. Groups will be allowed in only with official guides and will be limited to the edges of the nesting area.

Let’s hope this time the turtles will have no reason to beat a hasty retreat—a speed extremely out of character—back to the sea.

Do you think people are more likely to act disrespectfully toward nature when in large groups and others are conducting themselves badly? As a whole, are travelers lately exhibiting more reprehensible behavior?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Stephen Ole Kisotu November 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    A combination of education awareness creation and regulation enforcement will produce better results.

  2. Martins Egot November 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    The global approach to nature conservation has been education and awareness. This is obviously not yielding the desired result. there is need to review the strategies. I will like us to reflect on the following questions:
    What level of indigenous peoples’ capacity has been built to carry on conservation campaign in their local communities?
    Are their local Institutions or community owned institutions mentored to drive nature conservation in local communities to ensure ownership and sustainability?
    where livelihood is the cause of conflict with natural resource use, is it given a holistic attention?
    I think development experts need to go back to the drawing board and ensure that indigenous people are put in the centre of nature conservation strategies.

  3. Jennifer Halwenge November 22, 2015 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Education or no education, I think respect for NATURE is key.

  4. Mokolwane B. Mokolwane November 18, 2015 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Let me diverge from the turtles case, there exists a serious problem of human & wildlife conflict. Elephants are unwelcome visitors, gobbling up crops that took farmers months to grow, too much land reserved area for wild life and conservation. Its an open secret that in all this reserved areas there is abject poverty. Erosion of subsistence agriculture (raids of ploughing fields by elephants & predators killing livestock only exacerbates the negative view of wildlife as a menace ) is an erosion of the communities’ major source of livelihood and culture. Man has to survive what are we saying, tourism benefits a selected few not the communities………….

  5. Munir Awan November 18, 2015 at 8:59 am - Reply

    There are enough laws and rules to curb these actions. its the human behaviour, which needs attention in whatever way.

  6. Ann Johnston November 15, 2015 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    I agree that education is the key – that and ensuring kids have opportunities to explore and enjoy nature from an early age on. Regulation is less effective, especially if there aren’t resources for monitoring the regulations.

  7. John Koshak November 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Wildlife Agencies know that Wildlife Management is usually People Management. If necessary, there needs to be some one with authority to HELP people behave themselves, or, left to their own devices, they will behave selfishly and often cause damage through ignorance and the wrong actions.
    There needs to be more Wildlife Officers to encourage their good behavior, or else!

  8. Laura M. Ellerby November 7, 2015 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    I witnessed the same bad behavior from children whose parents would not restrict them from hassling turtles at Ras al Jinz in Oman. One green sea turtle had just laid her eggs, and she was struggling to extricate herself from her hole in order to return to the sea. You could see that she was exhausted. The badly behaved children would toss more sand on her back making it harder for her to escape her nest. Finally, an Omani guide intervened. This might sound harsh, but I don’t believe that children should be allowed to go on these excursions; they are too disruptive to the turtles.

  9. Bebot T. Santa Cruz November 7, 2015 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    Strengthening Education and awareness campaign is the only way to address such human behaviours with wildlife such as marine turtles.

  10. Robert Basiuk November 7, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    The fact that this activity is appearing on social media in the context of a ‘selfie’ means that a large number of people assume it (coming into contact with wildlife) is not a socially unacceptable behaviour. Furthermore, with the plethora of wildlife reality shows – all featuring ‘the star’ wrestling with, chasing, clutching or somehow coming into contact with wildlife – the message is that it is ok to touch wildlife.

  11. Ajay Rastogi November 7, 2015 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Regulation in many places only increase conflicts and corruption because its not only about tourism but also about livelihoods in several places. Therefore, education has to get deeper into the aspects of connectedness with landscapes and co-existence with nature. We are developing work on this aspect; and am a part of the training of Marine PA managers in India.

  12. Adrian Williams November 7, 2015 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    While I deplore this behaviour, there is no point having extra legislation unless it can be ‘policed’. Formal and informal education is the key.

  13. Ken Burrows November 7, 2015 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    The combination of sensible regulation and well delivered education is the answer. Ultimately when the human race finally destroys itself nature will be very happy once again.

  14. Rick Dawson November 7, 2015 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    It is easier to regulate human behavior than it is to manage animal behavior.

  15. Rob Bixler October 24, 2015 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    As expected, the usual misanthropy. While regulation and education may play a role, in the end, people protect what they love. The problem we have today is a larger socialization issue within which regulations and education play a small role. We cannot entirely solve problems with education (which people may not care about) or regulation (which causes psychological reactance). Creating people who care and love natural resources is a long term socialization process. We need long term solutions otherwise these sorts of problems will continue to be common resulting in confrontations which just create further hostility.

  16. Carina Sparre Lippert October 21, 2015 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Teach some respect for nature and other living creatures to our children. It is almost impossible to change the mindset and behaviour of adults, but children are openminded and curious. If they are tought to respect these creatures, they will be more focused on protecting and helping animals like the sea turtles, rather than competing over getting the best selfies and most likes on social media!

  17. Meena Singh October 19, 2015 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    environmentalists must spread more awareness and education among the people.

  18. Vivienne Mcneil October 19, 2015 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Agree with David that both regulation and education needed. In particular, if it could be done in a way that locals can become tourist guides, that way giving them a stake in the turtle’s success.

  19. R. Scott Taylor October 17, 2015 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    You can’t legislate stupidity out of humans.

  20. David Berman October 17, 2015 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    How will no more regulations help? What will ensure these turtles can continue to lay eggs and produce more turtles so that their species survives? Did perching children on the back of a turtle actually change the number of eggs laid and reduce the survival of the young turtles? We all have strong opinions without knowing enough. I am working just now near Bundaberg in Queensland Australia to help reduce the damage caused by foxes on turtles. There are plenty of signs here and regulations on the main turtle breeding beaches. Many volunteers spend summer here helping protect the turtles and collect scientific data to measure the effectiveness of the turtle/people/fox management.

  21. Larry Allen October 16, 2015 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Basic answer is “no more regulations”.

  22. Bruce Baker October 15, 2015 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Many schools already focus on conservation issues. This does depend on curriculum requirements. However, the way in which it is done can vary considerably and have varied results. One concept I saw illustrated well recently by one of the presenters at an Ecology Summit for the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary that I think should be widely adopted is one which involves concentric circles around the individual or group of animals concerned with the animal(s) at the centre. The distance between the animal(s) and the observer corresponds to the degree of interference caused. This varies from increased vigilance to flight of the animal(s). However, even the minimum of increased vigilance causes a decrease in foraging time and thereby impacts on the animal(s). The other extreme of close encroachment causing the animal(s) to take flight / run may completely deter animals from the area. Consequently, I thoroughly support Yvonne Winter’s point of increased signage illustrating these distances for species of significance in their preferred habitat is vitally important to educate the public. Regulations are generally not well received and almost impossible to enforce. Education and understanding the reasoning is key.

  23. Jane Rosser October 14, 2015 at 5:49 am - Reply

    Perhaps a more positive approach through encouragement of understanding through education rather than an increasingly negative aspect of control and limitation might prove more beneficial.

  24. Thomas Sawyer October 14, 2015 at 5:46 am - Reply

    If being respectful to wildlife constitutes more regulations, then so be it. However, it is not always the quantity of regulatory oversight than can solve all problems such as the stories described,, but perhaps the effectiveness of those that already exist,should be examined closer.But without economical,support, political support, or adequate resources, the effectiveness of the increased regulations will be stalled, Maybe the consequences and harshness of disturbing wildlife should also be examined. Regardless, something needs to be done-globally and well as domestically.

  25. Gavan Thomas October 13, 2015 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Less nanny state intervention, more ongoing education and awareness raising from like-minded environmental professionals.

  26. Yvonne Winter October 13, 2015 at 7:32 am - Reply

    Education is what is needed.

  27. Laurence Hutchinson October 12, 2015 at 7:51 am - Reply

    It is difficult to regulate against the ignorance of social conciousness and the lack of human awareness.

  28. Sharon Schaffhauser October 10, 2015 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Common sense and a respect for new life should prevail…. all mothers need a quiet and safe place to birth the next generation.

  29. Xavier Arnau October 10, 2015 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    More restrictions are dangerous: we can fall in an authoritarian Society. I think it is better – but slow – education.

  30. Connie Grazine Reinman October 7, 2015 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Education is important but if a person doesn’t learn compassion for all living things they will never feel concern regarding their selfish acts.
    To me it is ignorance from the ground up. I spend a part of every year in Africa. How can you look at any animal in the eyes and not believe they have a soul. How can anyone interrupt their natural habits for any reason.
    With a good camera one can take beautiful pictures from a distance. All animals are our allies and we must treat them with the respect they deserve.

  31. Becca Wood October 7, 2015 at 5:29 am - Reply

    I don’t think more regulations are needed, I believe the ones in place need to be enforced. I live very close to Yellowstone and the people that visit are completely out of control and every time they do something stupid, the animal usually ends up paying with its life. I think that if Law Enforcement would start handing out some hefty fines for breaking the existing rules and regulations, this type of behavior would decrease.

  32. Jennifer Wagner October 7, 2015 at 5:27 am - Reply

    I also agree that education is extremely important. I feel that everyone has the responsibility to educate others about wildlife and how to react if an animal is encountered. It would be ideal if communities could teach about the native wildlife in the region and how to respect them, even in schools or public centers. I truly feel that many people think “Cute little turtle, let me take a flash photo of you on my head” and don’t realize that their actions could be detrimental to the animal. In most of these situations, the people just don’t realize how much they could hurt the animal, and would likely behave more appropriately if they knew the damage they caused. More regulations would likely be ignored by many, as it seems the current regulations are already facing that problem.

  33. Jacob Lowe October 6, 2015 at 10:11 am - Reply

    I agree that education is important, there will always be people that don’t care or even will actively try to cause harm but most would hopefully try to help. I know it would be considered interfering but the locals could be recruited to protect the babies as they make their dash to the ocean, human actions endanger the species so actions to protect it would just counter the negative actions maybe?

  34. John Loeffler October 6, 2015 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Do we not have enough government regulations? We are drowning in them! If people behaved themselves then we would not have totalitarian governments increasingly dictating what we can and cannot do. Mass species strandings and die-offs are the result of overuse of natural resources and pollution that are mainly exacerbated by our increasingly, corporate-run governments.

  35. Emily Gilbert October 6, 2015 at 9:13 am - Reply

    There is an increasing problem in the Rockies area ( I live in Colorado). People are taking “selfies” with bears and elk, endangering their lives as well as disturbing the wild animals. One park had to be completely shut down because of this. I agree that educating both youngsters and even adults on the danger to both humans and animals when we invade their space.

  36. Alex Rausch October 5, 2015 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I agree with Hannah. As an Environmental Educator whose soul passion is to teach people (especially children) about nature, you are wrong if you think everyone already knows everything about wildlife. People DON’T understand and they will care once they’ve been enlightened. You’re not going to win by having a hard heart. Reach people where they are at. People won’t care unless they know and understand.

  37. Erica Discombe October 5, 2015 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Stricter regulation is definitely needed. Turtle hatching is a big tourism hotspot around Australia in the warmer months and people flock to see the spectacle. But unfortunately most places only have a “recommended behaviour” approach. The tourism aspect is needed for conservation but too much human interaction can be detrimental to habitat sites and animal behaviour.

  38. Nurul Alia'a Harun October 5, 2015 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    We can definitely view this as another form of wildlife consumption – through entertainment. From circus to zoos, we (man in general) have always used animals for entertainment purposes. It would be unfair to conclude that stronger policies will work in all instances. For the case of Costa Rica, there needs to be less publicity surrounding the events of turtles’ landings/hatching. While this is a beautiful phenomenon that should be observed by humanity, this is also a fragile occurrence in the ecosystem. The local community has been observed to make a profit from it, posing a danger to these turtles.

    On the subject of travelers, we’re witnessing a more self-involved and approval-hungry population that thrives on exotic experiences that they can publish on social media accounts. Will education reach these people? Quite possibly. But at the same time, maybe, just maybe we should limit information on occurrences of these beautiful events (turtle landings, hatching, etc) to control the number of people that could do damage, and deter these turtles from landing on these beaches again.

  39. Jaclyn Shanley October 5, 2015 at 7:03 am - Reply

    We need better enforcement. The policies already exist.

  40. Barbara Perlik October 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Education. Knowledge is power. Also use the press to show how arrogant and self centered this behavior is.

  41. Martin Karlberg October 4, 2015 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Mankind=Syntax error

  42. James Doyle October 4, 2015 at 10:31 am - Reply

    I think it’s more about education or lack of education. I see it all the time in Australia where people of all ages feel they have a “right to photograph” anything they want or to interfere with the animal. The classic one is feeding waterbirds at a local pond. Signs everywhere saying don’t feed the birds bread but people say “what harm does it do?”. Regulations and Laws only work if there is enforcement, this can lead to further trouble for the wildlife. I say educate people from a young age to appreciate and protect our natural world.

  43. Hannah Stitfall October 4, 2015 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Education is key! I’m almost certain that the majority of people aren’t aware or have a full understanding of the species in question, especially when there appears to be thousands of baby’s everywhere! And if people generally aren’t that interested in wildlife and see some sort of phenomenon they will of course take an interest, its human nature. It’s horrid and disrespectful for people like ourselves to see, and we of course want to do something about it, however I feel enforcing more laws is time consuming and costly, just for people to ignore, when that time could be spent devising new interactive ways of educating people on animal welfare issues. Conservationists need to reach out to the general public and make them have a better understanding!!

  44. Andi Noakes October 4, 2015 at 10:28 am - Reply

    John – I believe you hit the nail on the head! It truly is about educating every person. This reminds me of the wildebeest migration where safari vehicles block access to shore every year and higher mortality rates are being reported because of this conflict.

  45. Yvonne Winter October 4, 2015 at 10:27 am - Reply

    I fully agree John! Thanks for sharing Candice.

  46. Martin Newcombe October 2, 2015 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    It seems to be the trend; they don’t care about the wildlife, only about another tick in the stamp collection or another photo. This sort of behaviour seems widespread e.g. rare migrant birds being harried by twitchers, or people destroying rare plants as they photograph them. Am I the only one who deplores such selfish behaviour? And how do we educate against it?

  47. Sondra Sheren October 2, 2015 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    This starts at the school level, apparently Costa Rica with all their supposed emphasis on ecology, does not teach that animals as well as plants can become endangered. When I was there 20 yrs ago the area was closed to visitors during reproduction season of the turtles, When I was there last fall, no one seemed to care about the environment and indeed many species that I saw abundant 20 yrs ago have almost vanished. I was very distressed to see this.

  48. John Millar FLS October 2, 2015 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Regulations that work are excellent, but even more important is raising awareness, education in schools and colleges,and especially changing lifestyles to be more environmentally friendly. People that respect wildlife and the environment are more likely to aid conservation than those forced but not in harmony with the environment.

  49. Stuart F. October 1, 2015 at 8:43 am - Reply

    It comes down to education. Globally many people have become increasingly disconnected to the natural world and their place within it. This can mean that when they do experience the natural environment or natural phenomena such as this, their interactions with other species become superficial and contrived. In this instance in Costa Rica the turtles were solely treated as a photo opportunity and the crowd appear to have little or no understanding for the immediate needs of the turtles and their eggs.
    Greater environmental awareness is needed globally, so that people are less inclined to view the global environment and phenomena such as these turtles in negative or manipulative ways, such as a photo opportunity or a source of income.

  50. Ramakrishna Venkatasamy October 1, 2015 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Whether it is lack of respect or lack of consideration or rather damn right ignorance we have to decide. There is certainly a class of people around who are always out looking for excitement, irrespective of whether their selfish needs cause distress to others. We keep asking for more regulations to regulate our bad behaviours when we could as well regulate ourselves through a better understanding of others around us.

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