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.