Baiting In Your National Park

June 17, 2015  •  22 Comments

Well, it finally happened. While I knew otherwise, I hoped this was something that happened within a known group of unethical photographers. I hoped it was unique to a few specific locations. I wished it was contained to a few places and a few people. But it isn't. I knew it wasn't. I had just really hoped. Last week, in Point Reyes National Seashore, I found two gentlemen using what I believe to be dead rodents to lure in birds of prey for photography.

Baiting of animals for photography isn't anything new. It has been going on for decades. I was sad to learn that some of my favorite wildlife shows in the 70s, where I watched my favorite animals chase down their meals, were setups. But today it is at its peak. More and more animal photos that you see in photo contest, on magazine covers and in galleries, are of animals that were teased, lured and baited into the scene you are admiring.

Last week I was watching peregrine falcons dance in the sky. The fledglings had only been out of the nest for a couple weeks, but their acrobatics and skill in the air was as if they had been flying a lifetime. They chased each other, their parents and anything that came within a half mile of them. It was a thrilling evening.


 

Upon walking back to my car, I noticed 2 gentlemen standing on the side of the trail. They had their cameras fixed into the grass off trail. I wondered what they were shooting. So I took my long lens to my face to get a closer look. One moved into the bushes and retrieved something. I snapped a photo, clearly seeing something in his hand. He moved it to a rock that seemed to have more clearing around it than its previous location.

I watched for a short while, then continued walking down the trail. When they noticed me, the gentleman quickly retrieved what he had placed on the rock and slid it into his pocket, shielding it as he noticed I was watching him through my camera. When I reached the 2 gentlemen, I spoke in a very gentle, non-confrontational tone, and simply said, "I am not sure if you know, but it is illegal to bait animals in the park. I don't work for the park, nor am I in any way trying to lecture you. I am only speaking as one photographer to another, just letting you know."

My comment was met with, "Don't you worry about us and what we are doing." My response was calm again, "Well, I did see you retrieve what looked like a dead rodent. So if you are baiting animals in this National Park, I do worry about what you are doing."

After a short conversation, they were happy to see me move on my way. The entire walk back to my car, I was totally bummed. A perfect evening with peregrine falcons was tainted by the thing in my profession I hate the most. Baiting.

I have blogged about this topic before. So I don't reiterate a previous blog post on this topic, you can check out the reasons I hate it so much here. I've also discussed this topic with Bay Nature and Mother Nature Network. You can read those articles on ethics in photography here and here.

When I got home, I imported the pictures to my computer. While not perfectly clear, I have every reason to believe my gut instinct. The 2 gentlemen had their cameras fixed on one specific location. They moved an object to a more clear area and refocused their cameras on the new spot. The gentleman is holding the item palm up on the end of his fingers. His quick retrieval of the item and sly concealing of it after seeing me gave him a guilty look. Their demeanor and 'mind our own business' attitude adds to the list.

 

There is only one reason that people bait. Greed. Their own selfish desires far outweigh any love they have of nature. They put animals at risk of disease, of their young being killed, of habituating them with humans, and of changing their natural behaviors, well below their personal greed. It makes me sick to be lumped in with these people who call themselves 'Nature' Photographers.

If you are purchasing an image of an amazing animal scene or voting for your favorite picture in a photo contest, be sure to ask the photographer if the image was obtained naturally without the photographer's influence. If you subscribe to magazines that promote or give prizes to images that were obtained through baiting, cancel them. I suspect everyone reading this blog post would be very unhappy if they learned the owl image they have hanging on their wall was obtained by a 'photographer' throwing it a mouse he purchased from a pet store.


Comments

LA(non-registered)
I totally agree that baiting is awful and should be spoken of more and there's stands a good chance this was being done...but you don't know for certain in this case, correct? Just throwing it out there, but wouldn't it be considered libel since you don't have any evidence they did this and you are going on gut instinct? Can't you be sued for that? Hope you're careful!
Daniel Dietrich
Yes they were using a call as well. They actually told me they weren’t baiting, but they were actually ‘just’ calling. He pulled the caller out of his pocket. What was in his hand in the photo and the caller were not the same item.

Daniel
Jim Coda(non-registered)
Hi Daniel. I'm glad you reported them. If they see their pictures on your blog they will be embarrassed. Do you know if they were using a call as well? -Jim
Daniel Dietrich
You have said it so elegantly, Gary. Isn’t it amazing? It is truly found in every walk of life. As it relates to “nature” photography, I was truly naive entering into this profession. I had admired the legends of photography for years and years. I couldn’t believe the images they were capturing. When I finally learned of baiting for the first time, I was hit like a tidal wave. All the images and scenes I had seen in magazines and on TV came rushing back to me, and I had to wonder how many of them were setups, true deceptions in nature. And now that I have spent some significant time on the topic, I see just how many of these amazing ‘nature’ shots are indeed of baited animals. Far too many.

It is indeed dangerous and harmful to the animal in so many ways. The list includes disease from store bought mice, it brings them closer to vehicles which strike and kill them, it alters their hunting patterns, they are exposed to day time predators, they become habituated to humans, the list goes on and on. As well, the life of the mouse that is so casually tossed to its death is hardly considered. I would be so delighted if it was put in the same class as poaching. But with today’s hunting rules, that seems so far from possible. Right now, it is legal to place a bag of donuts under a tree, sit in a tree stand and shoot a bear in the head as it eats the donuts. So we still have a ways to go. But I am currently working on trying to get magazines, blogs, websites and contests to ban images of baited animals. When they don’t, they encourage the behavior. We need a NatGeo to stand up to this topic. I hope we’ll get there.

I did indeed get the license plate of the vehicle and gave it to authorities. I hope they can talk to the baiters and it helps change their ways.

Daniel
Gary Gay(non-registered)
Hey, Dan. First, I have to say that I was truly amazed at the acrobatic peregrine falcon family shots. Wow! "Salting the mine" has been around for, well, since there was salt. One of the less desirable characteristics of humans is their practiced art of deception. It takes on many forms: lying, cheating, manipulating, staging, and as you have blogged, baiting. It happens in business, sports, music, love, friendship, ad nauseam. To be honest, I never thought about it in the world of "in the wild" nature photography. Very oxymoronic. However, although all deception is harmful to some degree, baiting seems like a crime against nature, possibly resulting in any number of negative short/medium/long term effects. Maybe it should rank right up there with "poaching". Glad to hear it is illegal. It should be. Did you get a shot of their license plate?
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