What is “Wildlife”?

Many take the view that “wildlife” means every animal alive except humans and the species we have domesticated. By this definition, “wildlife” includes all residents of the taxonomic kingdom Animalia, which encompasses every animal from spiders to blue whales and hummingbirds to elephants—minus humans and “our” animals.

These people are confused by the rules of the wildlife photo contest being co-hosted by Arizona Wildlife Views magazine and Arizona Highways. If wildlife is basically everything but humans, farm animals and house pets, they ask, how come my butterfly picture was rejected? What about the wild horses I photographed roaming in a meadow beside the Salt River … why don’t they count?

I’m sympathetic toward those asking the questions. Wildlife photographers are some of my favorite people. Eyes open and hearts tuned to the natural world, they reveal nature with an artistry that sometimes still steals my breath, even after I’ve reviewed tens of thousands of wildlife photos. When these people ask why particular “wildlife” photos are being rejected from the contest, it makes me stop and think.

I appreciate the point of view that defines “wildlife” as broadly as possible. But for the purposes of this contest, we’ve adopted a narrower definition, one based in state law:

“ ‘Wildlife’ means all wild mammals, wild birds and the nests or eggs thereof, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish, including their eggs or spawn.” (ARS 17-101)

We do this because this year, as in previous contest years, winning photos will be published in the annual wildlife calendar issue of Arizona Wildlife Views magazine. The magazine is published by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The department gets its authority to manage wildlife from state statutes, including the one I quoted. So, since this wildlife photo contest began, eligible photos have been governed by the statutory definition of “wildlife.”

Photos of the animals one generally thinks of first when thinking of Arizona wildlife are eligible: deer and elk, Apache trout, mountain lions and turkeys, waterfowl, hummingbirds, Gila monsters, rattlesnakes. In fact, Arizona Game and Fish manages more than 800 native wildlife species—the most of any inland state—and we’d love to see pictures of all of them. We’ll even accept images of mussels and snails (as long as they are native species).

What we can’t accept is fairly small: Spiders; butterflies and other insects; burros and horses (which are not native species).

What do you think? What is your definition of “wildlife”?

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One thought on “What is “Wildlife”?

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  1. I’d reject burros and horses because they are not wildlife, but feral domesticated livestock . Using the native species litmus test would lead to disqualifying all brook, brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. Grayling and chukar, too.

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