The Ethics of Baiting Wildlife

by valrac4_a3kqdy
Wildlife photography takes incredible patience and a very refined and specific skill set. While I do not consider myself a wildlife photographer, I enjoy the exercise of observing just as much, if not more so, than the actual making of the image.

Wildlife photography takes incredible patience and a very refined and specific skill set. While I do not consider myself a wildlife photographer, I enjoy the exercise of observing just as much, if not more so, than the actual making of the image.

I have had the good fortune to work with many biologists, researchers, wardens and other professionals who, in the course of their work, come in close contact with wildlife. To the very last one, I can honestly say that I have never met one individual who didn’t have the utmost respect for their subjects. Despite the need to live capture, poke and prod, the health and safety of the animal was always first and foremost.

About a decade ago I was working in one of Ontario’s major wilderness parks.  As I was checking in at the campground, the gate attendant advised me there was a solitary juvenile wolf wandering near the site where I was registered. Being from Nova Scotia, a province where wolves were extirpated in the 1800s, I was thinking this would be a great photo opportunity.

While I was quite anxious about this potential opportunity, others seemed to be on edge and quite concerned about this ravenous creature entering their campground space—who is entering whose space? Later that evening the peacefulness was interrupted with screams and cries for help.

To be honest, I was dumbfounded by the events that warranted the outburst. A mother, it seems, had placed a young daughter on top of a picnic table to feed our young Canis lupus friend a few hot dogs (as in wieners or tube steak) while she snapped a few pictures. The young wolf apparently hadn’t satisfied his appetite when the larder was bare, and in exchange, gave the young girl a nip on the hand. Notice I wrote “nip”—I saw the daughter’s hand and this was not a bite but broken skin only. The mother was panicked and screaming that the wolf had bitten her daughter.

I believe most folks who spend any amount of time around wildlife will know in advance what the outcome of this young wolf was. To the letter, it had, in fact, bitten a human. Regardless of the stupidity of the mother, the outcome was inevitable, unfortunately. While I was angered, I kept my comments to myself; however, and thankfully, others did not. The family hastily checked out the next morning as the news of fate of the wolf had spread through the campground.

In the summer of 2012, several pictures surfaced on social media of wolves in Banff being fed rice cakes by tourists.  Also in 2012, there was an incident when tourists tossed sandwich meat at a grizzly sow and her three cubs, in an effort to get them closer to their commercial tour van. More recently, a Parks Canada warden on routine patrol on Banff’s Bow Valley Parkway came upon a known wolf pack feeding on a discarded, cooked turkey carcass and other human food. Nearby were several vehicles and photographers taking photographs of the wolves, apparently none of whom knew how the discarded food made its way to the site.

This is also the season when photographers will start luring various raptors with pet store raised mice, all in the name of getting that perfect in-flight shot. I am not one to pass judgement on others, but what about photographer ethics? Does this non-natural occurrence adjust the birds natural instinct and behaviour?

As a wildlife protection officer in Newfoundland once told me: a fed animal is a dead animal.  These animals become habituated, and once they lose their fear of humans the interaction and contact rarely has a positive outcome for the animal, unfortunately.

Before we feed or bait lure animals all in the name of photography, let’s consider the potential well-being of the animal. Really, is our picture worth that price?

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