The ethics of wildlife photography

World famous British photographer David Yarrow was lying on his stomach in the snow on a Tuesday at the end of January. His camera lens pointed to a pair of red foxes approaching him over a frozen lake Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. His colleague Tom Rosenthal stood behind him, trying to bring the canines closer by waving a piece of cellophane from a packet of cigarettes that they could take with them to eat.

The goal was to get a super dense shot of wild foxes and the tactic – though ethically dubious – worked. However, after a picture of the incident surfaced along with an eyewitness claim that the crew illegally fed the animals, the backlash was quick.

“If he were a tourist, I would understand,” says Tiffany Taxis, the Jackson, Wyoming photographer who captured the scene and reported the incident to the National Park Service. “But David Yarrow knows what he’s doing. He compromised an animal’s life so it could get a good shot and it really rubs me the wrong way. ”

Yarrow and Rosenthal defended their actions, saying they weren’t actually feeding the foxes. “I don’t think you can eat cigarettes, do I?” Rosenthal told me.

Two weeks later, park rangers captured and killed one of the foxes that was present on the day of Yarrow’s shooting. Because the animal was accustomed and food-driven after targeting picnickers and thieving angler trout last year, its fate had been sealed for months – long before yarrow could handle it. Even so, criticism of Yarrow, known for his highly stylized photographs of high fashion, historical scenes, and wildlife, continued. A petition from Change.org called for its complete ban on all national parks that have collected more than 6,200 signatures. Those on social media capturing the fate of the foxes on Yarrow pointed to his questionable approach to wildlife photography in the past, with alleged reports of the use of animals from game farms and taking pictures of the models in dangerous proximity to African ones Elephants showed.

Yarrow told me that the past screams caused him to become more introspective and contrite, and to make a concerted effort to model better behavior. “I think in the pursuit of creativity and authenticity we should never go so far as to get criticism,” he says. “Have I changed? Yes. We try to stay away from anything that can be considered remotely controversial. “The photographer” vehemently “denies having fed the foxes. “Did I use it for commercial purposes? Absolutely not, ”says Yarrow.


But when Taxis’ photo of the crew made the rounds, there was outrage, says Dave Navratil, president of the Teton Photography Club. “We haven’t had a lot of people telling each other to calm down,” he says.

While Navratils Club did not express their own thoughts, the members used the incident to promote their “Shoot to Care” ethics campaign, which encourages photographers to keep a safe distance from their young and exemplary behavior in caves or adult women to turn This means that animal welfare comes first. Aside from these localized education efforts, there are few regulations governing wildlife photography in the United States. While some national parks set observation thresholds, e.g. For example, maintaining a distance of 100 meters from wolves and bears and 25 meters from other species can be difficult to enforce. Both inside and outside the parks, professional and amateur photographers are often left to their own judgment Sometimes this means prioritizing the shot over an animal’s wellbeing.

“It’s all self-regulated,” says Navratil. “It depends on each person and what they are willing to do.”

The crowding of wildlife often leads to habituation, resulting in aggressive, careless, or destructive behavior that will not be tolerated by wildlife managers as it endangers both animals and humans. From grizzlies breaking into cars and raiding campsites to an increasing number of car accidents involving moose or moose getting used to roads, such incidents have increased steadily in recent years. Photographers don’t deserve all of the guilt – anyone can get too close to an animal – but the peripheral and long-term nature of a photographer’s presence can profoundly affect an animal’s conditioning.

(Photo: Tiffany Taxis)

Yellowstone has been into human-conditioned wolves since the mid-1990s, shortly after the species was reintroduced, and the canines have proven to be a magnet for photographers who have learned where to see packs. In 2019, word spread locally of a visible wolf pit on Slough Creek in Yellowstone, exposing particularly impressive pups to humans. This contributed to a litter born in the Junction Butte pack that was dangerously no longer afraid of humans. Two of the seven-month-old pups were met and killed on the streets that year, and another known as 1,273 million lost all concern for the people. at one point it even ran away with a tripod propped up on the side of the road.

“The guy chased after the wolf because it was an expensive tripod,” said Doug Smith, director of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, a program that oversees the park’s wolf research and surveillance initiatives. “The wolf dropped it [the guy] picked it up and brought it back to the street, and the wolf followed. ”

That’s a problem. Yellowstone wolves, considered hopelessly accustomed, have been knocked down twice before. To avoid similar ramifications with the Junction Butte package, Smith and colleagues removed a page from Yellowstone’s 2003 plan for customary wolf management, in which animals venturing near roads and people with non-lethal projectiles like Paintballs are bullied. When the park’s boundaries were closed to visitors for 55 days at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith’s staff went out “armed to the teeth” to reverse the conditioning of the 1273M Wolf.

“To be very clear, we beat him last spring when the park was closed,” says Smith. “I mean, he hit him. A researcher hit him with bear spray. Every time he was out, we hit him the whole nine meters with paintballs, bean bags, rubber bullets. “The non-lethal projectiles had the desired effect: Keeping Wolf 1273M alive. The last close contact with humans took place when a raven researcher poured paprika over the dog.

The relationship between photographers and familiar grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area has was also a problem. Since 2017, photographers have hiked to Togwotee Pass on the east side of Jackson Hole at the beginning of summer to see a particularly well-known and human-conditioned grizzly bear, a woman named Felicia.

Ursine lives on a freeway at a speed of 70 mph is full. However, the Wyoming Wildlife and Fish Authority has documented the illegal placement of food and grain along the freeway to accustom the bears to eating along the road. Felicia roams through a national forest with limited law enforcement, so photographers are usually left to the police. However, they don’t do a good job and have been criticized for getting dangerously close to animals.

Last May, photo tour guide and local resident Jack Bayles came across a group of professional wildlife photographers who were off the highway in the grass 50 feet from Felicia. Nearby, an excited male grizzly lingered, chewing and snapping its jaws. “I don’t know why people are so competitive to get full screen shots that you just can’t ethically do,” says Bayle’s Photos, you’re too close.

National Forest employees who manage the land around Togwotee Pass cannot monitor the remote highway every time a grizzly shows up. However, they are currently working with a local nonprofit, Friends of the Bridger-Teton, to develop a volunteer corps that will ensure someone is always on site and wearing official attire. “We’re really into this kind of effort,” says Bayles, “and we’d love to see more of it.”

“Outside of the parks, it mostly falls to the photography community, which in today’s world is usually condemnation from social media. This can be effective, but it has its own problems. “

It is one thing to educate casual visitors about how to behave when interacting with wildlife and how to take responsible photos, says Navratil of the Teton Photography Club. It’s another way of controlling the behavior of professionals who should know better but cross ethical boundaries to get the shot. “In a national park there are rules that the Park Service can apply,” says Navratil. “Outside of the parks, it mostly falls to the photography community, which usually means condemnation from social media. This can be effective, but it has its own problems. ”

People tend to forget their common sense and manners while online tongue whipping. In addition, social media disdain also takes place retrospectively – if the animal has already been harmed. In the case of the fox incident, the backlash announced that Yarrow would distance himself from wildlife photography in order to focus more on the fine arts. “You won’t see a David Yarrow fox picture,” he says. “That’s not really what I do.”

Bayles suggests a more proactive approach: Photographers should monitor one another and speak up if they witness irresponsible or dangerous practices. “We have no authority to do anything,” says Bayles. “But we are the ones who are there.” So what’s the problem when no one is looking? Both Navratil and Bayles say that in order to keep professional wildlife wild and safe, professional photographers should develop their own code of ethics – and then adhere to those self-administered rules no matter what the options. “We should try to act the same way when people are watching as when they are not,” says Bayles.

Main photo: Tiffany Taxis

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