The more time I spend in the world of professional wildlife photography, the more I am wowed. There is some serious talent out there. But at the same time, I find reason to be very disappointed in the actions of many 'professionals'. I chose this field first and foremost for my love of nature. It has been a part of my existence for as long as I can remember. Summers spent in campgrounds flipping rocks looking for crayfish and salamanders, counting birds on trips, who in the family could find the first animal on any given road trip. And of course the all the nature magazines and TV shows, most notably National Geographic and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. The images and footage was breathtaking. It made me want to see these things with my own eyes.
As I have blogged about in the past, I have found that so many of the amazing images we see today are setups. They are shot under controlled situations with trained animals. They are shot with bait, where the photographer puts out live mice or a dead deer to lure in owls and wolves. Today, as the great bait debate continues, a new vocabulary is being used. Not surprisingly, it is being used by those that bait. They call it 'Supplemental Feeding'. And the locations they are shooting from are 'Professional Hides'.
Let's look at Supplemental Feeding first. There is no doubt animals have it hard these days. We've cut down their forests, we've paved their grasslands, we've filled in their wetlands. I am the first person who wants animals to endure as little hardship as possible. But feeding them for photography does not help. Photographers will hide behind the term 'Supplemental Feeding' to justify their baiting of the animal for photography. They say they are feeding a starving animal. They say they've found dead owls that they could have saved with some supplemental feeding.
I'd like to understand how many photographers have the skill to look at an owl in a tree and make the determination that the animal is starving. After making this amazing visual determination they can then place a mouse out in the snow to feed the owl, and photograph it as it swoops in for the rodent. How kind of them. If they determine one is NOT starving, do they carry on to the next owl to similarly evaluate its health before deciding to bait and photograph it?
I'd also like to know if their supplemental feeding only on the occasions where convenient for their photography is the right amount of feeding to ensure their safety and survival. If they were so concerned, wouldn't they be feeding it a consistent amount of food on a consistent schedule? It is funny how the feeding only seems to coincide with their photography schedule and perfect light.
Professional Hides. They are indeed hides, but I question the use of the word professional. This is where hides are placed in a set location and bait is laid out in a field or on a tree in an effort to lure the animals close enough to the hide for photography. The catch here is, the bait is often the sacrificed life of an animal such as a deer. I have also heard of sugar snacks for bears, rodents for raptors, and even the use of dog food.
While the hides may conceal the photographers from the animals, the end result is still habituation. These animals fall into a specific pattern of behavior, drawing them to the same location week after week. While these hides are typically on private land, the animal's patterns can easily be ascertained and hunters, trappers or others with ulterior motives can easily take the animal the second they step off the private land.
This doesn't even take into account the lives of the animals being killed to use for bait.
Wildlife has a hard enough time surviving in today's resource stripping world. Why would we only make it harder on them trying to satisfy our own selfish motives? We can say we are helping starving animals. We can say we are acting in the animals best interest. We can say our hides keep the animals from being habituated. But in the end, these terms and actions only satisfy our own greed. Supplemental feeding, professional hides and 'ethical baiting' have no place in the world of Nature Photography.