Wildlife Photographers: Scrub Your GPS Data 

Wildlife Photographers: Scrub Your GPS Data 

In a recent series about people, technology, and nature, Vice highlighted the growing problem of poachers who are using photographer’s GPS data to locate, harass, and kill rare animal species. In the US, one of the more prevalently poached species is the rattlesnake, a species that is almost exclusively North American.

The article, released earlier this week, highlights the extreme measures that preservationists and scientists are having to take in order to keep poachers away from at-risk animals. One of the main methods poachers are beginning to use is Instagram, scanning photographer’s posts for any indication of where the photo may have been taken. In addition to GPS data, poachers are also looking for any type of recognizable landmark in order to locate where a new habitat may exist. 

Luckily, most major social media platforms already scrub EXIF data automatically from photos, but someone determined enough can still trace photos back to photographer’s personal websites or portfolios where the EXIF data may still exist.

In an era where technology makes seemingly anything readily available and at our fingertips, it may be time for photographers to exercise even more caution when protecting the locations and subjects of their photos.

You can read the entire Vice article here.

Lead image by Pixabay user Hans, used under Creative Commons.

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Previous comments

If you shoot color film regularly and have prints made then you are exceeding the cost of a used flatbed negative scanner. Not as good as a dedicated film scanner but you'll get far better results than most prints produced at a lab and then scanned. Digital is what has made it possible to get the best out of film.

Anonymous's picture

My camera doesn't record GPS data but I regularly record location data with a hand-held unit and incorporate it into the final images for clients who want that kind of information. I wouldn't do it for my personal images. But, as I've said before, stripping the location information is so easy, why base your gear choices on that? Use whatever you like but for reasons that make sense...not out of ignorance.

Donna Macauley's picture

It's not ignorance. I can strip the information. However, there are also financial reasons and assessing needs. I don't need the latest and greatest camera. What I have works just fine. Our society get so caught up on the latest and greatest, we forget to ask ourselves if we really need it. Basic camera functions have not changed. Some bells and whistles can be a benefit if you'll use them. I don't use them and I don't have the need. No reason to spend the money.

Anonymous's picture

Please read my posts before replying. I wrote, "why base your gear choices on that?" All your other reasons make perfect sense and, really, you don't need a reason at all. If, however, your choice were based solely on the inclusion of location information, that would be ignorant which, while nothing to be ashamed of, is nothing to be proud of either.

Donna Macauley's picture

You are right. It's not the only reason and it shouldn't be the only reason, but we are getting off topic.

The real issue at hand is no matter how you choose to do it, don't post GPS coordinates, especially if the photo is of an endangered/protected species.

Anonymous's picture


nothing wrong with having a camera with GPS. there is a checkbox on the export menu in lightroom to remove all location data, so your JPEG would be without the info, but you would sitll have the location data in your RAW files.

Paulo Macedo's picture

I have my 6D and i don't recall ever switching on the GPS. Don't like and don't feel comfortable with this "here's where I am right now" feeling.
Shouldn't we like, start finding poachers and kill them too, like, hunting them till exaustion and finally a bullet to the skull (this is f'ed up i know but they deserve no less).

Anonymous's picture

Depending on the place, the poachers might just be very impoverished people trying to make a living for themselves and their families. It's easy to put a nefarious face on anyone that's killing the last (insert cute animal here), but the thing about wildlife preservation is that it's often something spurred on by people who have the luxury of worrying about such things and largely imposed on people for whom there more important matters.

Kyle Medina's picture

I thought GPS was awesome in a camera and now that I have it. I don't use it at all and when I tag my photos they are just hot locations.

Anonymous's picture

Out of curiosity, why does it matter so much if some obscure, endangered species goes extinct? It seems like we invest so much financial and emotional capital in trying to prevent the extinction of species that exist in insignificant amounts, but to what end do we do this? Is it an issue of human guilt? It seems to me like if you want to screw poachers over, just let them continue doing what they're doing until the species that they're poaching go extinct and they're effectively out of business due to their own stupidity.

I get that biodiversity is important and that it is seriously being threatened by things such as habitat destruction and deforestation, but we're not talking about saving the rain forest here. We're talking about being fearful of people picking off the last remnants of species that are probably on their way out (for natural or unnatural reasons) anyway. Not every species in the history of the world was meant to last forever and if a species can only survive because the world has changed in a manner that requires us to put in a concerted effort to keep it alive, maybe its time is just up. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with extinction. The vast majority of species that have existed throughout history are no longer here today and we hardly ever think about them—even the more recent ones such as the dodo and the thylacine.

I'm sure people will think that my view is rather callous and it's not that I'm not for conserving nature. It's just that the species that apply in these instances seem to be so rare as to have an insignificant impact on their environment even if they disappeared. With so much damage already done to their numbers, I guess my question is when do we just decide that maybe it's no longer worth our trouble just to keep them around for the sake of keeping them around. This seems to me like a different issue altogether from protecting species that exist in numbers, but may be significantly and adversely impacted by policies such as over-fishing or habitat destruction.

Do we really believe that these endangered species will ever actually recover? Do we have a moral responsibility to try to help them recover in a world that they are probably no longer suited for (else they wouldn't be endangered in the first place)? In the case of an animal that is being hunted or poached, will that demand ever go away? If it doesn't, do we just continue to play this cat and mouse game with the poachers in perpetuity? What's the end game here?

For the record, after reading this article, I will certainly scrub any GPS coordinates if I happen to be in such a position since there's really no reason to encourage more damage than already exists, but my questions were regarding the types of conservation efforts that we decide to get into overall. I would be interested to hear other peoples' thoughts on the topic as it has always fascinated me to some degree.

So, the GPS in your camera doesn't just kill your battery, but wild life too?

Neville Ross's picture

If said data's used by poachers, yes.