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My 2 Cents


The use of captive wildlife subjects in photography has been debated for many years now, and although I hate to bring it up again, I believe some aspects of this issue are unresolved. Basically, I think that captive wildlife subjects are overused, a shortcut to wildlife photography, devalue truly rare wild photographs of certain species, and promote an industry that raises wild animals in captivity. But I wonít go there. Progress has been made in recognizing captive subjects in many publications. Some, such as Audubon Calendars, insist on only wild subjects, while others simply disclose, in caption or by symbol, that the subject is captive or that the image was made under "controlled" conditions.

I canít say that there is no room for photographs of captive subjects, or even the game farms where many of them are obtained. These images have illustrated countless magazines, books, calendars, and brochures educating us about ecosystems and rare wildlife. I also believe that many subjects truly cannot be photographed in the wild, although I am not referring to the subjects most often photographed in captivity. Mountain lions, wolves, lynx, bobcats, fishers, otters and others have all been photographed in the wild. However, mice, voles, shrews and many reptiles and amphibians are virtually impossible to photograph in the wild and generally must be captured and handled to be photographed.

I take much pride in providing "wild" images, however, Iíll be the first to admit there are captive subjects in my files (and on this web site). All of my small mammals (mice, voles, shrews) were photographed in an aquarium, while most of my reptiles were at least handled to photograph them. Although excusable, I donít believe this is a blank ticket to fake everything about the image. I donít really know how often frogs sit on flowers and toadstools, but have a feeling that it is not nearly as often as one would think after browsing through a frog calendar. Striving to capture real behavior of a species in its NATURAL habitat should be a goal.

Recently, I have seen images of captive subjects with captions that bother me. Where a photo was taken is very interesting information when presented with photos of animals taken in the wild. I frequently take mental notes of the locations of wildlife photos, and they often play into my anticipation of getting photos when I visit a new place. Printing the location where a captive photo was taken, however, may be literally honest, but is very misleading.

Two large and very successful game farms are located near Kalispell, Montana. It has been a common practice to label photos taken at these game farms as " North Fork Flathead River," "Flathead National Forest," or even "Glacier National Park." While almost literally correct, these captions are very misleading. People may receive the notion that if they visit these places, they may have a chance to see and photograph mountain lions, wolves, lynx, and grizzly cubs up close! While these animals do live there, ones chances of seeing, let alone photographing them in the wild are remote. The captions have lead to unrealistic expectations.

Even worse, however, are some captions in prominent publications that I have seen, such as "Gray wolf howling, Virginia" or "Snowy owl, Utah!" These captions are also probably literally correct, however, completely irresponsible when it comes to educating the public about wildlife. Neither of the 2 species occur (in the wild) in the 2 states where these captions said they did, and printing the locations where the photo was taken either misinforms the viewer or challenges the credibility of the publisher.

My proposal is simple. When a subject is captive, "CAPTIVE" should be stated, and nothing else. Location is irrelevant when we are referring to captive subjects. Providing the public with beautiful images of wild animals is a strong conservation tool and we should be using this tool to educate the public at every opportunity.

"My 2 Cents" Archives:

"Killing a Bear for a Good Photo"
"Wolves in Virginia; Snowy Owls in Utah"