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Wildlife Photography: Part 3 – The Issue of Baiting Wildlife

by Deb Tappan

The idea of using attractants, known as baiting, to photograph wildlife is a controversial one. Baiting wild animals is dangerous for both the photographer and animal. There are those who choose to bait but with that approach comes great responsibility.

At the very least, you are training wild animals to disregard their natural protective instincts when you bait. At the very worst, you are causing them to become dependent on a food source that you alone are providing them and this can be catastrophic.

The impacts are cumulative as well as sloping. For instance, if the bait isn’t getting you the results you are after, do you try a “food” which is not naturally a part of that species diet? Are you knowledgeable enough about their physiology to know what food products are safe? For some species, something as seemingly innocuous as potato chips can result in their death. What about using other forms of attractants. Do you now add calls or scents? What about a blind?* If you’re on US national parkland, all of these things are strictly prohibited (eg. Professional Photography Program).

If you bait, you run the chance of habituating the animal to humans. The animals may no longer think that humans are to be feared and that humans equate to the appearance of food. In the case of bears, that’s NOT a good idea at all for obvious reasons. If habituated, the results can be disastrous to both the individual (mauling at the least, death at the worst) and to the bear (relocation at the least, death at the worst). For example, the black bears of one of the US’s premier national parks have a reputation for being quite naughty. They are so habituated to humans that they are notorious for approaching backpackers for the food in their packs and breaking into cars in the parking lots, etc. This habituation is due in part to food access and improper food storage by visitors. (The US National Park Service has been actively engaged in educating visitors as to safe and proper food storage and animal watching behavior. Their efforts in this regard seem to be helping.)

Is getting a photograph worth the risk to yourself or the animal? Another thought to consider, is an animal trained to bait still truly “wild”? Along other lines, if you are a photographer that depends on such tactics, how successful will you be where you are prohibited from their use?

The very essence of wildlife photography is to photograph the animal as it exists in its natural surroundings. This is why we study and learn their patterns and behavior. It is why we back off and/or use longer lenses if the animal does begin to show any signs of stress. It’s also why we take pains not to destroy their habitat. It is why we tread softly.

(*A blind is a camouflaged structure from which a photographer shoots. It may be a permanent structure that is part of the parkland/protected land or a portable structure that an individual carries with them out into the field.)

Photo Title: Dall Sheep Ram – (Alaska)
Photograph and text: Copyright 2004-2022 Deborah Siminski Tappan. All rights reserved.

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