Cameras for Conservation: How Photographing Wildlife Affects Engagement with Biodiversity

Author: Hanisch, Emma Katherine Neff

Date: 2018

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

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University of Otago


One of the most pressing ecological problems we face is the loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the variety, abundance, composition, distribution, and interactions of life on Earth, at genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. Because of human activity and expansion, many species have disappeared, and if current extinction trends continue, we will face a new mass extinction event (75% of species lost) within 250 years, if not sooner. Conserving biodiversity on a global scale will require mass participation, so it is important to find ways of increasing people’s engagement with biodiversity and nature. One way to achieve this might be through photographing wildlife. Photography has become an extremely popular hobby recently, thanks to the availability of digital cameras, smartphones, and photo sharing services. The act of photographing something has been shown to increase one’s engagement with the subject. Wildlife photography, as opposed to more generic nature photography, could be particularly effective at increasing engagement because people can readily form strong emotional connections with animals. In the academic portion of this thesis, two research studies are presented. A survey of a general population indicated that there is a weak correlation between photographing wildlife and engagement with biodiversity in several categories, including emotional attachment to nature, awareness and knowledge of biodiversity, concern about biodiversity loss, interest in wildlife, interest in photography. Interviews conducted with established wildlife photographers supported the findings from the survey. As this is exploratory research, more study is needed on the specific aspects of this phenomenon – particularly regarding links between engagement and pro-environmental behaviour. However, even this preliminary data can help inform communication practices surrounding biodiversity, and the role of wildlife photography in aiding conservation. The creative creative component of this thesis is a website titled The Wild Focus Project, an online community and resource for wildlife photographers, conservationists, and nature lovers. The central theme of The Wild Focus Project is nature conservation through storytelling, with photography treated as a storytelling tool. The website ( is permanent, accessible, and interactive. Hopefully, The Wild Focus Project will expand and continue for many years to come.

Subjects: photography, wildlife photography, wildlife, nature conservation, engagement, emotional attachment, awareness, environmental concern, informal learning

Citation: ["Hanisch, E. K. N. (2018). Cameras for Conservation: How Photographing Wildlife Affects Engagement with Biodiversity (Thesis, Master of Science Communication). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

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