|Photographing on Game Farms
by Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III
There has been a great deal of controversy over the last four to five years about whether it is ethical to photograph captive animals. Most magazines have resolved the difference of opinion by requiring that the photographer state whether the photo is of a captive animal or not. I have no problem with such a declaration and feel quite sure that the general public doesn't either. Most people just want to see the animal portrayed at its absolute finest and really don't care how or where the picture was taken. This I feel is particularly true today when so many photographers are enhancing their photographs on their computers in Photoshop. And, although in Photoshop trees, rocks, etc. can be added or deleted, you still have to start with good wildlife photography.
I have absolutely no problem either with the "purists" among the wildlife photographers who swear that they have never taken photographs of captive animals and that they never will. I say more power to them and I wish there were more photographers who felt that way because it surely would cut down on the competition. However, I don't want them to set themselves up as judges of what the rest of us photographers do or don't do. To be competitive in today's exceedingly tight photographic market, a photographer needs photographs of as many different species as is possible. I have also noticed that many of the "purists" who decry the photographing of captive animals are either not professionals or else have money enough from other sources that they don't need the photographs of all the species possible because they are not dependent on their photo sales for their livelihood.
I am seventy-six years old as I write this and I have been a professional wildlife photographer since I was nineteen. Over the years, I have sold more wildlife photographs than any other photographer in North America and have had over 1800 magazine covers to my credit. I made those sales because I had the photographs of almost every creature that any editor ever needed. Did I photograph captive animals? You bet I did, and still do.
I well remember, back in 1984, right after my book, How I Photograph Wildlife & Nature, first came out, many professionals wanted to know why I had disclosed so many of the "secrets" of wildlife photography. That was the reason I wrote the book, I wanted to help other inexperienced people be successful in becoming wildlife photographers. I believed then, and I still do, that the more interest we can engender about wildlife in the general public through our photographs, the more chance we have of saving wild places so that future generations will have the wildlife to enjoy and to photograph.
I stated in my book that, if you were going to take photographs of cougar, lynx and bobcat, you were going to have to go to a "Hertz rent-a-cougar" game farm or you simply would not be able to get those photos. I explained that I paid to photograph those animals because I didn't want inexperienced photographers to think that I was able to get those photos of animals in the wild and they couldn't.
Let me give you some facts of life. From 1949 to 1965, I spent every summer, eight to ten weeks at a time, guiding canoe trips into the virgin wilderness areas on the headwaters of the Ottawa River in Quebec, Canada. There were no roads, no buildings and no people, except for several Southern Cree Indian families in an area 125 miles across. I saw lynx a number of times, but I was never able to get any photographs. It was not until the summer of 2001, when I was in Denali National Park that I actually photographed a wild lynx.
I have seen bobcat tracks in my home state of New Jersey, but that's all I did see, just tracks. A friend called in a bobcat for me in Texas by using a predator call. I have seen bobcats cross the road ahead of my car on two different occasions but, except for the one in Texas, I have never had the opportunity to photograph them in the wild.
I have traveled extensively in every area of our contiguous forty-eight states and, in all of that time, I have seen just two wild cougars. One was a big tom that dashed across the road in Arizona in 1967 and was killed by the car ahead of me. The other cougar came in to a deer carcass a friend of mine had put out for bobcat in 1988. That was the only wild cougar I have ever photographed. Unless you put out bait, call the animals in with a predator call or run these cats up a tree by using dogs, your chance of photographing any of these animals in the wild make winning the seven state lottery easy by comparison. These three cats are among the most furtive of all the wild animals. I know ranchers who have lived all their lives in cougar country who have never seen a cougar.
I have spent seventeen summers in Quebec, Canada, fourteen summers in Alaska and two in British Columbia. In all that time, I have seen eight or nine wolverines. Wolverines are one of the rarest wild animals in North America and, no, I have never photographed one in the wild.
Where have I gotten the hundreds and hundreds of great photographs of all of these animals that I have in my collection? The bulk of those photos were taken at the Triple D Game Farm in Kalispell, MT, owned and operated by my good friend, Jay Deist.
Maurice Hornocker, the country's foremost cougar authority never saw baby cougar kittens in the wild. I have lots of baby cougar photographs that I have taken at the Triple D Game Farm as their cougars usually have kittens every spring.
It is exceedingly important in photographing captive animals that the animals are photographed in what would be their natural habitat. For example, you would not want to photograph a grizzly bear if sugar maple trees showed in the background because there are no sugar maples in grizzly country. Whereas some photographers just starting out may not know this, you can bet your bottom dollar that the editors of nature magazines do and, if they don't, thousands of their readers do and letters to the editor will prove it.
Jay, living in northwestern Montana just west of Glacier National Park, has compounds strategically placed all over the countryside, allowing for the proper natural habitat for all of the species that he has in captivity. Having a large number of compounds also means that not all of the photographs taken there have the same identifying background, something that as a photographer you want to avoid. On occasion, Jay has hauled his animals to Vermont for northeastern photography groups and he runs an animal trip down to the Utah red rimrock country each spring. That area provides for spectacular scenic wildlife photography.
The Triple D Game Farm has both a Siberian tiger and snow leopards. Before you become concerned about the proper background for both of these Asiatic cats, just be assured that the tiger, photographed among the aspens, birches and conifers of northern Montana would be found among the exact same trees in Siberia. Those trees are found entirely around the world in that northern area. The snow leopard lives among the rocks of the Himalayan Mountains and the rocky ridges in Montana make a suitable background. George Schaller, who spent several years studying the snow leopard in the Himalayas was only able to get one photograph of the big cat in the wild. At Triple D, you will be able to get more photos of a snow leopard in a couple of hours than most biologists could get in a dozen lifetimes.
Rick Meyer, a huge bear of a man, is the main trainer and handler of Jay's animals. Rick is mother, father and family to the Triple D's grizzly bear and it's a pleasure to see the pleasure that Rick and the bear get out of working and playing together for the benefit of the photographers. Rick has raised the grizzly since he was first gotten as a five-pound cub in 1994. The bear was raised in Rick's home so, when I said that Rick was family to the bear, I really meant that he is "family". It is that kind of close relationship between the animals and their trainer that makes for the cooperation needed to get great wildlife photographs.
The Triple D Farm offers many species of other animals, both large and small, including fox, raccoon, bobcat, lynx, wolves in all color phases, badger, otter, mink, marten, fisher, deer, wild turkey, etc. Triple D operates all year long, with each season offering outstanding photographic opportunities. My photographs of a coyote howling on a hilltop in a heavy snowfall are truly outstanding and almost impossible to get in the wild. My photographs of baby lynx, bobcats and cougars appeal to folks of all ages. Whatever your needs or desires in wildlife photography, at prices you can afford, contact Triple D Game Farm at www.tripledgamefarm.com or call 406-755-9653 during business hours or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another tremendous benefit to being able to photograph captive animals is that it saves lives. It reduces the possibility that photographers may put their lives at risk by attempting to get too close to a wild creature in order to get that GREAT photograph. The very last photos taken by Chuck Gibbs on April 25th, 1987 of a grizzly sow and her cubs were GREAT. Unfortunately, they were the very last photos he ever took of anything.
By photographing captive animals, it also reduces pressure on many of the wild creatures because inexperienced photographers may inadvertently disturb them by getting too close.
As I said in the beginning of this column, by photographing captive animals, you will be able to get photographs of animals that you will never be able to get in the wild.