Wildlife encounters are establishments where tourists can directly or indirectly interact with captive animals for a variety of purposes ranging from photography, vlogging, voluntarism, private safaris, and big cat walks etc.
There are serval definitions of a wildlife encounter such as:
- Petting farms
- Animal sanctuaries
- Private safaris
- Animal parks and lodges
- Photography game farms
- Roadside zoos and sanctuaries
- Private game parks
- Wildlife encounters
Wildlife encounters do not host free roaming wild animals. Meaning, all animals are caged, fenced-in, or confined to large farms or parks. Additionally, these establishments operate under various guises whereby they hoodwink unsuspecting volunteers and tourists into visiting and participating in various activities.
Some wildlife encounters tout themselves as charities and conservation orientated whereby they claim to operate wildlife rehabilitation programmes, human and species conflict projects and volunteer programmes.
The image below was taken at the the N/a’an ku sê Foundation that claims:
“To be a paradise nestled deep in the bush, where orphaned animals are raised with dedication, their natural needs being carefully considered, tending away from the feeling of “captivity” – instead creating an environment where their instinctive behaviours are nurtured and encouraged. Only those carnivores too ill, abused or habituated remain at the sanctuary that is N/a’an ku sê.”Source: N/a’an ku sê Foundation
Captive animals cannot be nurtured or encouraged to behave as they would in the wild if humans are imprinted onto them. The N/a’an ku sê Foundation claims to release some captive animals back into the wild. However, after researching the organisation, it’s evidently clear that the establishments animals are released into a ‘fenced in sanctuary’, aka (game park, lodge, farm or private safari).
Wildlife encounters are considered dangerous establishments that allow tourists to imprint themselves onto captive animals for profit. Furthermore, they rarely show any evidence of rehabilitation programmes, and what evidence they do show is questionable among animal welfare watchdogs.
Furthermore, it has been alleged that several photography game farms in America and Southern Africa have links to illegal animal breeders, and the canned hunting industry.
Back in 2020, so-called animal lover and professional photographer David Yarrow rented animals from Animals of Montana, a photography game farm that was known for its brutal animal welfare conditions, animal trafficking, and poor animal husbandry.
Soon after David Yarrow’s controversial visit, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) ordered the farm to close due to multiple violations concerning the handling of animals dating back to 2015 (see report above). The photography game farm was closed down in May 2021.
Melissa Groo, an Associate Fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), succinctly points out that:
“David Yarrow is infamous among wildlife photographers for his disrespect of wildlife and what’s best for them; both wild and captive animals.
Animals are nothing more than props to him. He cares nothing for their welfare. It’s upsetting to so many, and he needs to be aware that it matters, and we are watching.”Source: Melissa Groo
One could interpret zoological gardens as a wildlife encounter however, most zoos will not allow visitors to directly or indirectly interact with their animals. Some zoos will allow some close, highly supervised interaction with animals such as penguins or koala bears that might be beneficial to both the animals, and the visitors. However, even this is frowned upon by most zoologists.
The vast majority of zoological societies will be affiliated with an approved governmental association such as the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, commonly known as (BIAZA). Furthermore, most zoos require a licence if they’re housing or showcasing non-endemic exotic animals and native species.
In addition, zoos may also be operating as a charitable and educational research institute too. Zoos that do not have a registered charity number, or are not affiliated with renowned associations or individuals could be a wildlife encounter therefore, its best to research before visiting.
The image below is a screengrab from Michigan State University, Department of Zoology (MSU) detailing all non-accredited zoos, aquariums, nature wildlife centres, and refuges. Some organisations on this list are genuine start-up zoos however, the majority are wildlife encounters therefore, it’s imperative to always investigate before parting with cash.
As with zoos, some people may interpret wildlife rehabs as a wildlife encounter too. However, genuine wildlife rehabilitation organisations do not allow members of the public to interact with their animals either, be it directly or indirectly.
Wildlife rehabs often treat captured, sick and trafficked animals, many of which are released back into the wild. Therefore, any type of unnecessary human imprinting can be severely counterproductive as confirmed by Dr D. J. Renney, MRCVS, Chairman, Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM).
On the 11th October 2021, I reached out to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management to understand more about human imprinting on animals in captivity.
On the 13th October 2021, Dr D. J. Renney, MRCVS said:
“As Jon points out, animals undergoing rehabilitation are subjected to two stressors – captivity and handling/human contact.
Studies on captive reared and rehabilitated foxes cubs showed behavioural abnormalities in the foxes after release into the wild (Roberston and Harris 1995).
The release of animals from captivity frequently leads to a period of erratic movement behaviour which is thought to expose the animal to a high risk of mortality.
This pattern of movement was compared with the dispersal behaviour of wild-reared foxes. It was concluded that released foxes, despite being proficient in other aspects of behaviour, were moving and behaving in a markedly abnormal manner and this resulted in a high death rate.
Survival rates were low, and road traffic accidents were found to be a major cause of mortality immediately following release.
The stress associated with captive-rearing meant that released foxes weighed less than wild-reared foxes, and they suffered further weight loss in the period immediately following release.
The effects of prenatal handling stress on adrenal weight and function and behaviour in farm-reared blue fox cubs in Norway was studied (Braastad 1998). The prenatal stress on female foxes, given one-minute daily handling stress in the last third of gestation, results indicated that prenatal stress to the female may enhance the postnatal adrenocortical function and a higher behavioural reactivity in novel situations of the female offspring.
The behavioural and physiological causation and pathogenesis of these abnormalities are open to discussion at present.
I would suggest that additional reasons to prevent human contact with rehabilitated animals would be on health and safety grounds – to prevent human wounding by the animal – and to prevent potential (subclinical) disease transmission from animal to human.“
Robertson, C P J; Harris, S; 1995. The Behaviour After Release of Captive-reared Fox Cubs. Animal Welfare, Volume 4, Number 4, pp. 295-306(12)
Robertson, C P J; Harris, S; 1995. The Condition and Survival Affer Release of Captive-reared Fox Cubs: Animal Welfare, Volume 4, Number 4, pp. 281-294(14)
Braastad, B.O a, Osadchuk, L.V b, Lund, G a, Bakken, M a. 1998. Effects of prenatal handling stress on adrenal weight and function and behaviour in novel situations in blue fox cubs ( Alopex lagopus). Applied Animal Behaviour Science 57(1):157-169Source: D. J. Renney, MRCVS
Wildlife encounters deliberately set about to mislead people, especially in Southern Africa. The vast majority of wildlife encounters surveyed in Southern Africa (2018-2021) claim to protect endangered species, conserve the habitat, protect keystone species, and run anti-poaching and hunting prevention projects.
In addition, the owners of these establishments make out their premises are safe, and that all animals are well cared for. Unfortunately, that’s the the “con in conservation” which dupes many tourists.
Up until recently, lion petting farms in South Africa were making a booming trade providing tourists with an up-close predator cat encounter. Lion cubs were bred on farms in the country for tourists to pet and pose with, sadly when the cubs grew too big to be handled they were sent off to be canned hunted.
The gruesome image below demonstrates the final phase of this so-called conservation orientated big cat petting industry which touts itself as a wildlife encounter. Lion bones are exported to the Asian medicine market to produce fake tiger bone wine.
The South African petting and canned hunting industry was under a great deal of scrutiny back in 2017. Multiple investigations conducted by activists and wildlife biologists exposed widespread cruelty, animal trafficking and horrific animal welfare conditions, all of which was being funded by tourists.
Finally, on the 2nd May 2021, after years of protests, petitions and investigations the South African government banned lion breeding, and the lion canned hunting industry however, there’s still a long way to go.
While the ban is excellent news for activists there remains a number of loopholes in the law that require addressing. Back in May 2021, I reached out to an investigative criminologist in wildlife crime for further clarification concerning these loopholes. Due to legal reasons, and the potential for litigation the sources identity has been censored.
Thank you Jon for your email, I’ve attached my answers and some information for your report.
“Minister Creecy announced on the 3rd May 2021, that the High-Level Panel recommended that South Africa would no longer breed captive lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially. She has instructed her Department to put processes in place to halt:
1. The sale of captive lion derivatives, including the appropriate disposal of existing lion bone stockpiles and lion bone from euthanised lions.
2. The hunting of captive bred lions.
3. Tourist interactions with captive lions, including, so-called voluntourism, cub petting, etc.
The High-Level Panel (HLP) identified several loopholes in the existing legislation, such as NEMBA and TOPS, that they would like to see changed (see for example pp 115-118 of the HLP report).
All HLP recommendations for captive lions, supported by the majority of the panel, were approved by Cabinet in April 2021.
We have no insight as yet with regard to timelines for the implementation of these changes. However, any amendments to existing legislation and/or promulgation of new legislation will need to go through the proper legal procedures that include public participation.
The Minister was clear in her announcement that she has instructed her department to immediately begin implementing her directives (such as changing the terms of the permits) even whilst legislative promulgation is underway.”Name redacted for legal reasons
Unfortunately, the ban on canned hunting and breeding of lions concerns that species only. The ban does not prevent tourists from visiting South African wildlife encounters that house cheetahs, leopards, or tigers, etc. Furthermore, tourists can still legally interact with all non-lion predators at South African petting farms, lodges and game parks too.
After conducting weeks of research and liaising with investigators in Southern Africa I located several wildlife encounters in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia, many of which are operating under the same banner as South African wildlife encounters.
‘LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING’
One so-called conservation organisation that caught my eye is that of ‘Wildlife Encounter‘ located in Zimbabwe. While the name appears to be a dead give away the organisation and its affiliates do appear legitimate however, looks can be very deceiving concerning these types of businesses.
Wildlife Encounter boasts an awareness and fundraising centre for a world-first captive to wild lion rehabilitation and release program, as well as a multitude of conservation and community development initiatives.
Furthermore, the organisation is affiliated with several safari operators, national parks, safari guide schools, and the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) all of which paints a rather nondeceptive picture.
Nonetheless, the image (seen below) paints another story which the organisation does not advertise on its website. Wildlife Encounter do advertise a Roar and Snore and Lion Encounter on their website however, both activities do not involve direct human and predator cat interaction.
After studying the companies Facebook page, it soon becomes apparent that Wildlife Encounter are operating as a pseudo conservation organisation funded primarily by wildlife photographers and videographers.
Additionally, while the company ranks high on Trip Advisor negative customer feedback paints the same widespread problems regarding these establishments.
On the 4th May 2021, I emailed Wildlife Encounter asking them to furnish me with evidence regarding their conservation work, and their so-called captive to wild lion rehabilitation and release program which any competent conservation organisation can easily make available.
At the time of publishing this article, Wildlife Encounter did not reply back to my email.
If Wildlife Encounter are genuinely releasing captive reared predators into national parks it places tourists, native inhabitants and farm animals at risk of being attacked or even killed by a semi-wild big cat.
A chairman from the NSPCA stated the following:
“Wild animals that were born and raised in captivity would not survive if they were just released back into the wild. They may face various challenges in fending for themselves.
The risk also lies in them being humanised and, as such, seeing humans as a food source and losing the fear of humans may result in injuries to people.
Once the animal has served its purpose in the relevant part of the cycle, the animal is either used for breeding, kept in an enclosure for the rest of its life for the entertainment of the public or used for canned hunting”Source: The National Council of SPCAs
In addition to contacting the NSPCA, I also reached out to an investigate organisation regarding my concerns. Due to legal reasons and the potential for litigation the investigators name has been redacted from my report.
On the 1st June 2021, I received the following email concerning Wildlife Encounter:
“Wildlife Encounter are not directly involved in hunting trips, although they are associated with Antelope Park and its owner who is known to have a history of hunting and breeding lions.
In addition, they exploit lions for commercial gain through petting and walking with lions activities with no proven success of rewilding lions at their sister organisation, Lion Alert (https://lionalert.org/).
We recommend having a look at the Facebook page Volunteers in Africa Beware. They keep a “Good, Bad and Ugly” list on their page where you can find a wealth of information about facilities that offer volunteer experiences (including facilities in Zimbabwe and beyond).
Unfortunately, we cannot give our thoughts on any properties in particular, but advise members of the public to ask as many questions about these facilities as possible.
For example, you should ask where they get their lion cubs from and where the adult lions go once they’ve reached their prime. If they cannot give you a satisfactory answer to those questions, or if they avoid answering them, that should raise a big red flag pointing towards unethical practices.”Source: (redacted for legal reasons)
On the 24th October 2021, I contacted The Born Free Foundation regarding Wildlife Encounter’s claims concerning the release of captive reared lions into the wild.
Sarah Jefferson from Born Free, and Captivity Campaigns Information Coordinator said:
Thank you for your email
These captive breeding facilities and lion encounters in Southern Africa are racked with many animal welfare and public safety concerns. They are largely exploitative and do not hold the welfare of the animals as their top priority.
Some places claim that they are breeding lions for ‘conservation purposes’ and will, at some point in the future, return them to the wild. However, it is extremely unlikely this will happen, not least because they now see humans as a source of food and would not have sufficient fear of humans if released.
As far as we are aware, there have been no captive-bred lions that have been returned to the wild by these companies or facilities. If there were any genuine attempts to return lions to the wild, via captive-breeding programmes, then contact with humans and close interaction with tourists would not create ideal candidates.
There are many human-wildlife conflict issues in Africa, including contact with wild lions. Human deaths and the killing of livestock is a major concern, so the release of habituated lions into the wild is not likely to be met with much enthusiasm and will do nothing to promote co-existence between people and lions.
Over the years, there have been numerous human injuries and deaths in Southern Africa as a result of close contact with captive lions during petting or walk-with activities.
You can read more about the issues concerning interaction activities with captive lions on our website at www.bornfree.org.uk/big-cat-interaction.
For information about Born Free’s lion conservation work, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/lion-conservation
Please don’t hesitate to contact us again.Source: Sarah Jefferson, Captivity Campaigns Information Coordinator, Born Free
‘WHEN WE TAKE ADVICE BUT CHOOSE TO IGNORE IT ANYWAY’
Most tourists will contemplate the advice given regarding wildlife encounters unfortunately, there are some that choose to take the advice given but ignore it anyway.
Furthermore, when it all goes wrong tourists rarely have a leg to stand on. Wildlife encounters employ the same tactics as game reserves whereby before you enter you must sign a contract of indemnity.
So simply put, if a predator mauls you inflicting life changing injuries (you were warned) but you chose to ignore that advice. This sneaky arrangement between both tourist and wildlife encounter is one of the many cons in conservation.
Kragga Kamma Game Park allows tourists to pet big cats for a few pounds, unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan for husband and wife when both cats attacked Mrs. D’Mello.
Mr. and Mrs. D’Mello visited the enclosure in which the hand-reared cheetah brothers, Mark and Monty, were kept when the attack took place. Violet D’Mello was left bleeding badly after being attacked. Forced to the ground and with blood pouring from her head, this British holidaymaker had a miraculous escape after being attacked by supposedly tame cheetahs.
Other tourists tried to scare the cheetahs off as park attendants desperately fought to get them away from the injured woman. And her husband? He carried on taking photographs, saying “he did not quite realise what was happening.”
The attack took place at a wildlife park where tourists can pay £4.50 to pet cheetah brothers Mark and Monty, both hand-reared and said to be tame.
In a 2012 Facebook post, the Kragga Kamma Game Park said:
“We, as a family, and our staff – who are like family, are all terribly upset about this incident, thankfully the injured parties are well on their way to recovery. Mark And Monty will DEFINATELY not be put down and will keep their position of treasured wildlife here at KKGP. Thank you for your personal messages over this time, they are very much appreciated.”Source: Kragga Kamma Game Park
This isn’t the first time both cheetahs have attacked tourists at the Kragga Kamma Game Park. Back in 2009, American photography tourist Michelle Bodenheimer was mauled by both cheetahs leaving her scratched and bleeding.
In a 2012 Daily Mail article, Mrs Bodenheimer said:
“I am heartbroken to see that Kragga Kamma did not learn from my unfortunate experience. The attacks are not the fault of the cats.
They could have been prevented. They are wild animals, which we tend to forget. People simply should not be allowed in with these beautiful, wild creatures.
In hindsight, I wish I had pushed the matter further at the time as perhaps it would have prevented this other poor woman from [being attacked].”Source: Mrs Bodenheimer via the Daily Mail
The question is though, why did two allegedly tame cheetahs attack both tourists? Aggression in big cats especially captive cheetahs is usually motivated by, or related to:
- Social pressures
- Fear or anxiety
- Inappropriate handling
- Illness or pain
In general, most large carnivores do not want to hunt or hurt humans. Fatalities have occurred in captivity when animals that weren’t accustomed to human contact attacked people who, accidentally or intentionally, ended up in their enclosure—which is their territory.
Cheetahs do not interact well with humans, generally, furthermore, wild and captive cheetahs are territorial. Both tourists entered the cheetahs territorial space which may have contributed to a threat, hence the attack. Cheetah attacks are considered rare, as of 2017 only two fatalities have been reported.
On the 15th October 2021 I reached out to the Kragga Kamma Game Park to ascertain if there had been an investigation concerning these attacks, and what measures had been implemented to prevent any future attacks from occurring. At the time of publishing this article, the KKGP declined to comment.
While the vast majority of human and wildlife encounters occur within captive animal establishments. Shocking reports have emerged since 2014 concerning human and wildlife encounters in game reserves where dangerous animals roam freely.
The shocking image below was snapped at the Mara River in south-west Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve which is visited by some three million tourists every year. Wardens, whose job it is to police the reserve, were standing outside the Land Rovers.
They looked like they couldn’t care less. Maasai guides, in their checked tribal robes, were among the crowd, watching as camera-laden tourists edged dangerously away from the vehicles to within a few metres of wildebeest nervously waiting to make their way down to the crossing point. It looks insane; as deranged as someone casually trying to walk across a Formula 1 circuit during a race.
Whilst tourism remains beneficial for large game reserves, reports of unregulated tourism has concerned wildlife biologists and ecologists. Excessive and uncontrolled tourism development has a negative impact on the conservation of environment and wildlife.
Back in September the Narok County government re-issued a set of rules to guides that must be adhered to when taking tourists on game drives.
It comes after a group of visitors and their camp were banned from visiting the Mara indefinitely in July after a video (seen below) shared widely on social media showed a man filming a leopard cub at the open door of his car.
The rules state vehicles must be at least 25m (82ft) away from cat species and drivers must not form a circle of cars around the animals, who need to be able to assess the environment for potential danger.
This isn’t the first time the Narok County government have issued warnings to tour guides and photographic tourists. On the 3rd September 2018, the Mara Predator Conservation Programme issued an alarming report concerning the negative impacts photographic tourists are having on local cheetah abundance.
Dr. Femke Broekhuis of the Mara Predator Conservation Programme reported the following:
“MPCP has scientifically shown that there is a negative correlation between cheetah cub recruitment rate and tourism abundance.
This is one reason why more cubs are being raised in the conservancies versus the National Reserve, as the tourist vehicles in conservancies are kept at low densities.”Source: Mara Predator Conservation Programme
Dr. Femke Broekhuis, KWT Scientific Associate wrote in her report (2018):
“Cheetahs have relatively big litters, ranging between one to six cubs. It is thought that they have such large litters to compensate for the high natural mortality of their cubs. In neighbouring Serengeti National Park, less than 5% of cubs reach independence.
Cheetah cubs can succumb to various factors including predation by other predators, abandonment, poor health, and fires. However, there are other factors, such as habitat and tourism, that are believed to also have an impact. These other factors have, until now, not been explored so my aim was to determine the effect of the following on the number of cubs that reach independence.
Between 1st June 2013 and 31st, October 2017 data was collected on how many cheetah cubs were seen and how many reached independence. At the same time, data was also collected on the number of tourists, lions, and spotted hyaenas.
The amount of open habitat and high tourist abundance both limited the number of cubs cheetahs raised to independence. More specifically, cheetahs in open habitats on average raised fewer than two cubs to independence compared to approximately three cubs for mothers residing in denser habitats such as Acacia woodland.
Similarly, females in areas with a lot of tourists on average raised one cub or less to independence compared to more than two cubs in low tourist areas. Neither lion nor spotted hyaena abundance was found to have an impact on cub recruitment.”Source: Dr. Femke Broekhuis, KWT Scientist
Dr. Femke Broekhuis recommended the following in her report:
It is important that strict viewing guidelines are implemented and enforced. Actions that could be taken to ensure that tourists do not have a negative impact on cheetahs include:
- Allowing no more than five vehicles at a cheetah sighting
- Ensuring that no tourist vehicles are allowed near a cheetah lair (den)
- Ensuring that vehicles keep a minimum distance of 30m at a cheetah sighting
- Ensuring that noise levels and general disturbance at sightings are kept to a minimum
- Ensuring that vehicles do not separate mothers and cubs
- Cheetahs on a kill are not enclosed by vehicles so that they can detect approaching danger
Dr. Femke Broekhuis report is somewhat concerning because cheetahs have vanished from approximately 90 percent of their historic range in Africa, and are extinct in Asia except for a single isolated population of perhaps 50 individuals in central Iran. There are estimated to be only 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild, and their future remains uncertain across their range.
Unfortunately, with new recommendations in place protecting some animals a minority of tourists continue to take the more controversial “wildlife encounter” route.
As mentioned, the South African government has banned the breeding of captive lions, keeping lions in captivity, and using captive lions or their derivatives commercially. However, the ban does not cover non-lion wildlife encounters in South Africa.
On the 14th May 2021, I contacted the National Council of SPCAs regarding all wildlife encounters in South Africa, and over the border for further information to help educate tourists to stay clear of these establishments.
Keshvi Nair, SPCA Public Relations Officer said:
“Our advice is that you should not allow yourself to be lured and manipulated by animal abusers because of your love for animals.
We understand that people mean well, it is their love for animals that draw them to the places where these sentient beings are confined.
By paying for a picture with the animal, or to pet the animal, or walk with the animal, or even view the animal in an enclosure – ULTIMATELY you are contributing to the animals suffering by paying to keep them in confinement.Source: Keshvi Nair, Public Relations Officer NSPCA
Wild animals belong in the wild, whether or not they grew up in captivity cannot guarantee your safety or theirs for that matter.”
When we learn from others we receive several benefits that cannot be gained from learning alone, some of which are:
- Leveraging prosocial motivation
- Getting different perspectives
- Processing information better
- Understanding the role of our peers
- Learning right from wrong
- Building relationships
- Better coordination of activities
- Identifying the right knowledge
- Learning from our own mistakes
However, when we learn egregious habits from others, especially those that should know better, all of the above flies straight out of the window which brings me back to David Yarrow, a man that many budding photographers look up to and learn from.
David Yarrow is the affiliated photographer for the African Conservation Charity Tusk Trust, a British organisation founded in 1990. Since November 2013, David Yarrow Photography has contributed over $1 million to help support Tusk’s programmes and projects.
Yarrow is also an Ambassador for Wild Ark, the Kevin Richardson Foundation and Best Buddies. Commercially, David Yarrow is Global Ambassador for UBS and European Ambassador for Nikon, as well as Creative Partner for Land Rover and Mantis.
David Yarrows approach to photographing wildlife is guided by Robert Capa’s assertion that “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.
When possible, Yarrow allegedly takes his photographs of dangerous wildlife using a remote-controlled camera, acknowledging that a photographer can achieve perspective by capturing shots that look up at the animal from the ground.
Yarrow uses an innovative technique to capture his shots. One of Yarrow’s methods involves coating his camera casing in a variety of scents to lure dangerous animals towards his camera lens. These treatments have been used after research into identifying the most attractive and enticing smell for the animal in question.
Therefore, one would be led to believe that David Yarrow is far from superior concerning his knowledge about ethical wildlife photography?
However, it turned out to be a product advertisement shoot for TAG Heuer of which endangered species were exploited as props prompting concerns to be raised from animal welfare critics.
Kevin Richardson has been criticised by many experts in the conservation community, members of whom state that experiences which expressly bring people and lions together on “walks” are risky because of the unpredictable nature of the wild animals. Conservationists weren’t wrong either, Megan van der Zwan, 22, was mauled to death at the so-called wildlife sanctuary in 2018.
Meanwhile, the supermodel herself appeared to be caged after the jewellery brand revealed that they deliberately picked ‘the most disruptive It Girl of the moment’ for their latest campaign. The TAG Heuer photoshoot provoked an immediate backlash from wildlife biologists, and the animal rights community.
In a 2015 MailOnline article, World Animal Protection wildlife expert, Dr Neil D’Cruze said:
“Lion cubs are not photo props. Their health and well-being should not be compromised. They belong in the wild, not draped over a celebrity just to sell a designer watch.
When you look behind the scenes, advertisements like these support an industry that relies on animal cruelty. Our concern is that such high profile adverts will legitimise these cruel encounters with wild animals.
I am sure that both advertisers and consumers alike would think twice about the commercial use of wild animals if they were aware of the suffering involved behind the scenes.”Source: Dr Neil D’Cruze World Animal Protection (WAP)
Despite criticism from wildlife biologists, animal protection charities, and the animal rights community, the CEO of TAG Heuer brushed aside peoples exasperation claiming he needed someone young and disruptive to sell his brand.
The CEO of TAG Heuer, Jean-Claude Biver told the MailOnline:
“We needed someone disruptive yet elegant like Cara to open our minds to the brashness and boldness of today’s youth.
TAG Heuer has set its sights on “it-ness”, and Cara is just the person to help us get there.”Source: Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer
Cara Delevingne apologised to her fans on Instagram stating that she had learned from her past mistakes, and that this would be a learning curve for her in the future. Unfortunately, Cara appeared in yet another photoshoot with a captive bred puma cub for the company PUMA.
In a Captive Wildlife Watchdog Post on Facebook it was said:
“Because David Yarrow markets his photographs (many of them containing Richardson’s captive lions) as being for the benefit of conservation and wildlife, and for the purpose of raising awareness about both, he has a fiduciary responsibility to both the public to whom he’s issuing those photographs, and the realm of conservation which he’s professing to represent.
Per his own statements, one of the only two ways photography can help conservation is by raising awareness with the public.
Therefore, Yarrow has a fiduciary responsibility to both the conservation industry, and the public, to act in an accountable, ethical manner. So does Kevin Richardson, whose animals are often featured in Yarrow’s “wildlife” photography.”Source: Captive Wildlife Watchdog
When educating people, especially budding young photographers its critically important that we get it right first time, setting exemplary examples, working to high standards, and finally, to never bring the organisation that we represent into disrepute.
I reached out to the National Councils of SPCAs on the 5th May 2021 who had this to say about David Yarrow and Cara Delevingne’s photoshoot:
“The NSPCA strongly opposes animal encounters, petting farms, unnecessary animal interaction, animals used for entertainment, wild animals kept in captivity unnecessarily etc.
With that being said, it is our strong belief that the public should make the ethical choice of not supporting places or people that exploit animals.
Is a selfie with a lion really worth the suffering that lion will endure for the rest of its life?”Source: The National Council of SPCAs
‘PUTTING THE PHOTO FIRST BEFORE OUR OWN WELFARE’
Poet Thomas Stearns Eliot once said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
It’s no surprise that as we get older we often experiment with risky situations to understand how they affect us. We are naturally curious, so it’s not enough to simply be told that a certain activity is bad for us.
However, experimenting with dangerous unpredictable wildlife would normally be considered by some as non compos mentis, or just plain stupid!
There are two types of risk takers; those who take stupid risks, and those who take dangerous risks:
- The stupid risk taker is normally fame driven that ignores all advice, placing themselves and others in danger, and will only learn how far they can go when it’s too late. The stupid risk taker normally suffers from a personality trait such as neuroticism too
- The dangerous risk taker will weigh-up the dangers and pros and cons to minimise any potential harm. Additionally, the dangerous risk taker normally learns from their mistakes, and knows when to stop
Wildlife photographer, Shannon Benson aka (Shannon Wild) is a prime example of a stupid risk taker who doesn’t know when to stop, and will only learn how far she can go when it’s too late.
Shannon Benson is followed by many thousands of people on Facebook and Instagram. Shannon enjoys the thrill of getting up-close and personal with dangerous captive wildlife at various wildlife encounters such as the one seen below.
The ill-thought-out documentary seen below shows Shannon Wild inches away from an adult carnivorous Komodo dragon. Furthermore, this isn’t any ordinary wildlife encounter at a captive game park, this is direct interaction with a deadly free roaming apex predator in the wild!
Red Collectives documentary is a prime example of what not to do with a camera when you’re inches away from a venomous and carnivorous reptile. Komodo dragons are known for their aggressiveness, furthermore, if their venomous bite doesn’t kill you, the dragons tail and its razor teeth will.
Apart from being utterly injudicious, Shannon Wild sets a bad example to all photographers and tourists who may try to re-enact similar scenes for their own social media viewers.
On the 6th May 2017, The Independent reported that a Singaporean photographer had been severely bitten after ignoring locals’ warnings that he should not get too close to the large lizards.
“Mr Alle was watching several of the large lizards eating pigs and goats belonging to villagers when he approached the animals to take photographs, according to local media.
He reportedly ignored repeat warnings from villagers that he should not get too close to the dangerous creatures.
“He must have been too close. A Komodo doesn’t like to be disturbed when eating,” park manager Sudiyono told The Jakarta Post.
Mr Alle was rescued by villagers and rushed to hospital on a military speed boat.”Source: The Independent
Fortunately, Shannon Benson was not injured this time however, she was severely injured back in 2015 when a cheetah mauled her at an unidentified South African private game park.
On the 8th March 2016 in an interview with the Daily Mail online, Benson said:
“I’ve been bitten in the face by a dog, charged by elephants, lions and buffalo, bitten countless times by snakes and lizards, and mauled by a cheetah, but it doesn’t discourage me.
The way I look at it though is, you shouldn’t be a chef if you don’t ever want to get a burn from hot food and wildlife photography is the same.
I’m excited by every encounter that I have and, I am surprisingly calm in most situations, even when tracking a lion on foot.”Source: Daily Mail
With regards to the cheetah mauling, Benson claimed:
“The attack happened in a controlled environment with an animal that is used to humans, however she had given clear body language and signs that she was hot, bothered and potentially uncooperative.”Source: Shannon Benson
Back in May 2021, I reached out to a renowned charity and investigator that works tirelessly to combat wildlife encounters that Shannon Benson claims to be against. Due to legal reasons, and the potential for litigation the investigators name and charity has been redacted from my report:
“Just a quick Google search of her name brings up several wildlife interaction images. These images send out one main message to glorify these interactive activities, which encourages other people to do the same.
She refers to the cheetah as being human habituated, so it was not completely wild. Many attacks by cheetahs on people have been documented and not all end this well.
That is one of the reasons why interaction with habituated captive cheetahs and even the release of such animals into natural spaces is considered dangerous.
To habituate a cheetah, the cubs are taken from the mothers within hours to days of birth and hand-reared by people, often paying international volunteers, on milk formulas that are inappropriate for cheetahs.
Subsequently, they are interacted with by paying tourists up to 8-10 hrs per day, seven days a week to further the habituation process.
ANY interaction with wildlife should be seen as unethical. Wildlife should be observed in their natural habitat without the need for such close-up encounters, whether it is for pleasure or professional purposes.”Source: (redacted for legal reasons)
Wildlife should be observed in their natural habitat, and not behind bars, or in private game parks, lodges, roadside zoos, sanctuaries, photography game parks, pseudo rehabs, petting farms or during predator walks.
Wildlife conservation areas and preserved natural habitats attract visitors from all over the world. Many places depend on wildlife for tourism, which makes up over 10% of the world’s GDP. Countries like Brazil, Australia, Kenya, and more are especially dependent on tourism.
However, when tourists visit wildlife encounters, the money they spend on interacting, petting and walking with predators does not contribute to wildlife conservation or the preservation of natural habitats. Instead that money buys more animals, builds more animal encounters, promotes fake voluntourism, and contributes to animal suffering and death.
Petting zoos and farms, where tourists are allowed to approach, handle and feed captive wildlife and domestic animals, have also been linked to several zoonotic outbreaks, including infections caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7, salmonellae, and Coxiella burnetii.
Finally, wildlife conservation should be an aim of wildlife photography. This means working to show animals faithfully in their natural habitats, leaving their routines and spaces undisturbed—not trying to manipulate the natural environment to get the perfect shot. That’s the key to honest ethical photography.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscape, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.