Wildlife photography: Please don't feed the animals!

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Wildlife photography: Please don't feed the animals!

By Victoria de Martigny

Quebec has incredible biodiversity and as such, the opportunities for wildlife photography exist all around us, both in urban and rural settings and in all seasons throughout the year.  While many wildlife photography purists would argue that “true” wildlife photography must only focus on animals in their wild environment, with the shift to creating more natural habitats for animals under human care, ethical zoos and rehabilitation facilities can also provide an excellent source of inspiration for wildlife enthusiasts.  In fact, some of my favorite images are of animals from right here at the Ecomuseum Zoo! 

These days, the wildest subjects I photograph tend to be toddlers who are cranky because it’s past their nap time, but before I switched my focus to people, you could usually find me and my camera out in the woods staking out moose, shivering up at Mirabel waiting for the annual snowy owl incursion or traveling to exotic locations hunting for furry, feathered or scaly creatures that I could bring home as photographic trophies. 

Most wildlife photographers want to get that “WOW” shot of an elusive animal that is notoriously camera shy, or the portrait of a wild animal seemingly close enough to touch gazing directly into the lens.  In the endless pursuit of that shot, baiting or feeding wild animals has become common practice among some.  While this tactic certainly produced some impressive photos from other local photographers, it is actually very detrimental to the well-being of the animal. Let me give you an example.

I met this fox a couple of weeks ago in the parking lot of a local park as we were wrapping up a family session.  At first, the fox stayed a safe distance away, watching curiously, but as we approached our cars, his ears pricked up with interest and he trotted closer.  My clients had three young children so I suggested they put the girls in the car while I took a few photos.  The complete lack of fear and clear interest in the contents of my bag led me to believe that someone has been feeding this handsome fellow.  As you can see from the photos, he looks friendly enough – almost like a family dog, but he is NOT a family pet, he is a wild animal with natural instincts for self-preservation that can be unpredictable.

When wild animals begin to associate people with food, they lose their fear and approach people or cars in search of a free meal, as this fox did with me. These animals don’t know the difference between an eager photographer with a bag full of food and a jogger or a child.  An encounter with a hungry predator who has lost its fear of humans is not going to end well – and usually it is the animal who pays the ultimate price for this behavior we have unwittingly taught them.  Aside from that, wild animals wandering close to cars on roads or in parking lots have a far greater chance of being hit by a car.  The Ecomuseum Zoo is home to several animals who have met just such a fate, their life of freedom cut short because due to the injuries sustained they would not be able to survive in the wild.

Feeding animals in captivity is just as bad, albeit for different reasons.  I can’t count the number of times I have seen photographers tossing a bit of their lunch into an animal enclosure in an effort to get that animal to approach – or to move to a more desirable location for a photo.  What you may not realize is that these animals are on strict and controlled diets to keep them healthy.  That little piece of salmon that you saved from last night’s dinner to entice a lynx for a photo op might be contaminated with salmonella or the uncooked hot dogs that you tossed into the wolf enclosure may have Listeria!  Is that photo really worth making the animal sick?

We photograph wild animals because we have an appreciation of them. When we are lucky enough to observe the natural behaviors of these beautiful creatures it is only normal that we want to share that feeling of awe and wonder with others.  Putting the animals we admire in danger so that we can get a better photo is not only selfish, it is completely contrary to ethical wildlife photography practices.  Let’s all stay safe and keep the animals safe too.

Victoria de Martigny is the owner and primary photographer at Creative Perspectives Photography.  Her photography has won awards from the SPPQ (Society for the Promotion of Photography in Quebec), PWPC (Professional Wedding Photographers of Canada), and other international competitions such as Photo District News, Shutterfest and BetterPhoto.com. She has been photographing families, babies & children and special events since 2008 and currently works out of her Ville St-Laurent studio.