Someone asked me to share a hidden location or collect a specimen for them. What should I do?

Modified on Tue, 26 Mar 2024 at 05:37 PM

On iNaturalist it’s OK to ask someone for the location of an obscured observation or to collect a specimen - many legitimate and honest conservationists and researchers do this, and it can be beneficial to their work. However, the information could be used by someone who’s poaching, trafficking, or selling organisms, so it’s good to be cautious if you receive such a request.


  • Remember you are under no obligation to reply to them, to share any information or collect any specimens for them, or explain the reasoning behind your decision. They should not badger you or demean you if you say no or do not reply.

  • The Community Guidelines ask us to assume others mean well, so please do that unless there are clear signs that the other party is acting maliciously. While we have a list of best practices to follow, they may not be aware of them.

  • The person contacting you should have a profile that’s filled out with identifiable information, such as their name, interests, any institution they may be affiliated with, and should be transparent as to their goals and motivations.

  • If the person is affiliated with an institution, ask to communicate with them via their institutional email address. For example, if someone claims to be from iNaturalist, ask them for their @inaturalist.org email address.

  • Legally collecting and shipping organic material almost always requires permits or licenses for both collecting and shipping. Anyone asking you to collect and send a specimen should go over any necessary permits, licenses, and other legal requirements when they contact you, or at least be able to provide that information if you ask them about it.

  • Do not collect or ship anything unless you know and can meet the legal requirements involved in all steps of the process.

  • You should not be offered payment outside of any costs you might incur, such as shipping costs.

  • If you’re suspicious, you can flag the message or contact iNaturalist and we will investigate.

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