So things are heating up in The Great De-Bait it would seem.
As you will know from social
media we have started an online petition to have the rules changed in The Wildlife
Photographer of The Year to ban all baited images from the competition whether the bait
used was live or dead at the time.
We are delighted to say that at the time of writing this blog nearly 1000 people have signed
the petition and the momentum is growing.
This action has had its detractors though and so we have decided to state for the record our
position on the ethics of baiting in the form of a blog that will sit on our website for all
eternity rather than writing something to social media that over time will be lost further and
further down the news feeds.
This blog post is a follow up to the original Great De-Bait from a few months ago where we
stated our opinion on people throwing fish to fish eagles in The Chobe and how we believed
this to be wrong and was setting a dangerous precedent. The support we had from the
community was overwhelming and we have thus decided to continue the campaign to have
this sort of unethical behaviour highlighted.
We have been asked in the last few days when exactly we became confirmed anti baiting
activists and there is no specific date…we have always been anti-baiting! However after we
took over the houseboat when we had several awkward moments when photographic
guides were arriving with their guests to use the facilities and insisting on being able to bait
the Fish Eagles for their clients. We refused and there were some very heated conversations
had on board.
The problem is that the guides themselves had sold their trips based on getting certain shots
and that’s what the clients were coming for. In all the cases the shots that they were using to
sell the trips were baited and therefore the behaviour was just repeating itself. We decided
at that point something had to be done to break the cycle.
The expectations of the clients need to be managed. Getting a shot of a swooping fish eagle
or a close up shot of a croc feeding are nearly impossible to get in the wild….but that’s the
whole point. We believe that you shouldn’t be manufacturing these shots just to say you got
it. Its not wildlife photography and we are sure that the photographer must in their heart of
hearts know that they have cheated not only the people seeing the image but also
themselves….or maybe that’s just us.
We have also been accused of unfairly targeting one photographer, his image and the
reserve where the “Opportunistic Croc” photo was taken. This is simply not the case.
When we saw the image on the Natural History Museum website we knew immediately
where and how it was taken. There was also confirmation from the photographer in the
caption that the animal had been baited with carrion and where and how the image was
The fact of the matter is when you enter your image into a photographic competition you
open it up to judging not only by the panel but also the viewers. This photo is also part of
the People’s Choice category which encourages people to vote for their favourite image. Its
interactive and one of the new features of the competition.
The rules of the competition state that live bait may not be used and this croc has been
baited using a carcass so we are in no way inferring that the photographer has broken any
rules and was perfectly entitled to enter this image.
What we do object to, from an ethical standpoint, is the competition itself differentiating
between the use of live and dead bait.
It is our opinion that all baiting needs to be discouraged and the petition is designed to
make this case to the organisers and judges that the majority of photographers and fans of
wildlife imagery feel the same way.
Three months ago I emailed the organisers to ask them what could be done about changing
the rules and here is what they said: (This is copied word for word from their email to be
dated October 25th 2016)
“Thank you for raising your concerns about this image – feedback from the photography community is vital to us.
Ethical nature photography has always been important to the competition. We have had many
discussions with photographers and juries over the years on baiting, all of which are reflected in our
rules. However, it is a subject that needs to be reviewed regularly with more and more
photographers out in the field and participating in the competition. As you know, we currently do not
allow live baiting, and other baiting should be declared in the caption.
In this instance with the image ‘Opportunistic Croc’ the photographer did in fact declare baiting in
the caption, on submission to the competition. On reflection, this should also be included in our final
published caption. If we re-print the ‘Highlights’ book, we will amend the caption to reflect this.
Thanks again, we value your passion for ethical wildlife photography and appreciate your concerns
for the competition. We regularly review our rules, and we have taken your comments very
The idea of the petition came about as a way of illustrating just how strongly the majority of people
feel about baiting. Most other wildlife photography competitions don’t allow any form of baiting so
perhaps the “world’s biggest” should take the same stance.
This petition is just the start of the campaign. In the coming months, we will be lobbying magazines,
newspapers, online publications and anyone who uses images taken by wildlife photographers to
either not use baited images or to declare the fact that a bait was used in the caption. We will be
asking them to include a baiting declaration in the release forms that usually accompany the use of
an image. The onus of disclosure will be on the photographer and this will also stop the magazine
from being duped and exposed to potential criticism from the majority of wildlife photography fans.
If the people who bait are doing so to raise their own social profile (or sometimes even profit if the
image is bought by a publication or used to promote a trip) and are now discouraged from baiting
then we will have succeeded in our aims.
This is our stand. We are not alone.