There are millions of excellent wildlife photos around. A lot of them, maybe most of them, taken under what is called “controlled conditions”, that is of captive animals. So are my pictures of wolves. The only wolves I have seen is this pack of wolves consisting of two parents and 13 younger ones, born in diffent years. These 15 wolves lives in an enclosure of about 10.000 m2, consisting of a nature more or less like the wilderness surrounding this wilderness park, that is Namsskogan Familiepark in the middle of Norway.
The wolf with the green mark is Fenris, father to 12 of the 13 younger ones. The last came from a zoo in Kristiansand in Norway last year, to see if the mother of the pack would adopt a new one. She did. This was part of a study, preparations in Sweden to transfere wolf puppies born captive to the wild.
I visited last summer, to write about the information about predators they give to schoolchildren in the Predator School, and again last week. Familieparken is closed during winter, but except for the bears who are sleeping, life goes on as normal. And I got some nice shots, among them of wolves in thick, winter fur. I did some journalistic work on my visit, but this park also offers photo safari for photographers who want to do predotors. It is mainly foreigners who do this, and it is on a small scale. But there is a lot of discussion about these kind of things going on, not the least on the internett.
A google search for “photographing captive animal” gave more than 24 million hits! A lot of this discussion is very interesting, and important, I think. Among other things because a lot of wildlife photos are not done in the wild, but on captive animals. As it is described in this article by Ted Williams in Audubon Magazine: “Deist describes the early clientele as “very secretive, because they didn’t want anyone to know the source. Concurrently, these amazing “wildlife photos” started showing up in magazines, calendars, and posters—close-up action shots with every whisker in perfect focus. Similar game farms sprang up around the country.”
“There are only a few animals that are more elusive then wolves and that makes them difficult to find and photograph. Wolves often hunt at night and are usually shy around humans for good reason”, writes Robert Berdan on his site, Canadian Nature Photographer. He tells that for a nature photographer there is no greater pleasure then photographing a wild animal in its natural habitat. However, he has also photographed animals at wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoos and educational centers, and especially mention a wolf center were photographers can walk with the wolves. “I have not photographed at game farms in the US so won’t comment on them. One of the criticisms by some photographers that have photographed at certain game farms in the US is that the animals were either poorly treated or housed in very small cages.”
There are no small cages at Namsskogan, and also no tamed animals. They are left alone, but are used to humans of course. And are very eager at feeding times.
Is it ethical to photograph captive animals? Askes a photographer on photolife.com. “Photography in the wilderness is very difficult and time consuming. Some species are extremely elusive (almost impossible to find) while others are endangered and deserve to be left in peace”, answers Peter K. Burian, who also cites Joe Van Os of Van Os Photo Safaris: “If every wanna-be was staking out the real thing, the pressure on animals in the wild would be exceptionally great,” says Joe Van Os of Van Os Photo Safaris.
Also many of the comments are interesting, like this one: “Many photographers do not know enough about the animals they are photographing to make good photos without disturbing them.” But to rent animals for photo-shoot is maybe not the answer? I need to cite Ted Williams again: “Audubon has sent me to lots of wild places over the past 31 years, but I’d seen only one wolf and three cougars (a litter) until December 8, 2009. On that day, before noon in the Glacier National Park ecosystem of northwestern Montana, I encountered not just one wolf but two and not just one cougar but two! What were the chances of that? Well, they were 100 percent, because I’d rented the animals for a photo shoot.” But he is not sure it is right to use these beautiful and healthy animal “models,” as the industry calls them.
“They claim these animals are ‘wildlife ambassadors.’ No. An injured animal used for education—that’s a wildlife ambassador. An animal kept solely for profit is an exploited animal. The wild isn’t pretty. I’d rather see it real than all gussied up. When I see a poster of a big, beautiful air-blown lion with a mane that looks better than my hair galloping toward me, I feel cheated.”
Myself I do not know the answers, and the wolves or other animals at Namsskogan can not be compared with the excamples mentioned above. I am sure they have as good a life as an animal in captivity can have. But i am going to read more about these topics, because I think there is a lot to be aware of and discuss for anyone who is photgraphing wildlife or other animals.
There are more wolf photos in my photogallery, also photo of other predators. All from “controlled conditions”!