Unethical Wildlife Photographers

On Saturday May 26, 2012, on a large family trip to Yellowstone, I arrived at the “Hitching Post” parking lot, joining a portion of our party that was in another vehicle. They had stopped to watch wolves chasing a cow elk. While there, my sister saw a couple badgers. Following them, she saw one enter a den. She took some photos, left, returned with some of the kids to show them (from a further distance so the kids’ less controlled voices wouldn’t disturb the badger and cause it to move off or hole up) and returned again to take more photos. Having maintained a reasonable distance, she did not disturb the badger, which continued to go about its business and remain viewable.

When we arrived, she guided my uncle and me to where the den could be viewed. I was looking forward to seeing and photographing the badger at the den from a reasonable viewing distance yet close enough for photos, as she had done. As soon as the den came into view my anticipation turned into disappointment. There was a camera with a wide-angle lens on a mono-pod like pole on the den mound.

An illegally, unethically and inconsiderately placed camera - right on the mound of a badger den. The photographers who did this were Stan Tekiela and Nathan Lovas. Mr. Lovas was holding the remote control on the camera with a wide-angle lens, while Mr. Tekiela sat behind a camera with a telephoto lens.

Two men were sitting on the ground about 30 yards away, one with a remote control in his hand and the other behind a telephoto lens. They beckoned us over to join them. We initially took up a spot behind and up-slope from them. The man on the right instructed (yes, instructed is the right word) us to place ourselves to their right. We walked down there, but I did not set up my tripod. Instead, I expressed my disappointment and disgust that they had walked up on the den to place the camera. I asked if the badger had emerged since being thus disturbed and was told it had not “but just wait.” I told them I didn’t want to be there, it had been ruined for us. Even if the badger did emerge from the den after being thus disturbed and with a new foreign object being the first thing it would see if/when emerging, any potential photographs for me would be ruined by the camera being in the frame. I spoke calmly but did convey my anger, disapproval, and disgust. As I spoke, the man on the left holding the remote control was scowling and shaking his head.

Having made my opinion on the matter clear, and wanting nothing further to do with the scene at that point, my sister and I started walking away. As we did so, one of the men tried to explain to me how the camera had been placed after the badger was in the den and why it was okay, as though such an explanation would appease my anger. It did not. When we were about 50 yards away and other people were starting to come into view, the man with the remote control retrieved the camera from the den.

Upon arriving back at the parking lot, we ran into some friends. When we told them about our encounter with these photographers, one of my friends immediately recognized them by my description, having had his own negative encounter with them, and seeing their vehicle in the lot.

I posted a trip report to this blog that evening including the photo of the camera on the den and their vehicle, with license plate. I linked the trip report to my Facebook Page and to the Yellowstone.net Forums. Later, I reported the incident to a Yellowstone Law Enforcement Officer. Unfortunately, unless they catch a person in the act of an illegal activity, they can’t issue a citation. That said, I know that some of them check reports on the forums, so I hope they are now on alert.

Since posting my report, I have received a number of comments, both posted publicly and emailed to me, from others who have also had encounters with these men and who identified the men for me. The photographers who did this were Stan Tekiela and Nathan Lovas. Mr. Lovas was holding the remote control on the camera with a wide-angle lens, while Mr. Tekiela sat behind a camera with a telephoto lens. I was dismayed to learn that these guys style themselves as “naturalists” and make their living selling wildlife photos, writing books on wildlife, leading photo tours, etc. I am extremely disgusted to discover that the Yellowstone Association even carries a book by Stan Tekiela in Park bookstores and via their online store (about which I just left a voicemail message for the person in charge of book selection as I think it is truly wrong that a photographer profit from sales made in the Park while engaging in illegal activities in the Park).

Here is one comment I receive via message, sender’s name withheld:

I have actually run into them four times in the park… I watched them throw hotdogs at a fox and use predator calls in the park on a few occasions. Stan was also very much interested in letting me know he had authored many books on wildlife and expected me to understand that baiting and using these calls IN the park was OK. I am glad you are bringing all of this to light.

Several people on the Yellowstone.net Forums also related their encounters with these two. The common theme is that it seems these guys will do whatever it takes to get their photos – ethics and consideration for wildlife and other wildlife observers and photographers (whether professional or amateur) be damned. If they want to use bait and predator calls and set up scenarios where they can guarantee results, they should confine themselves to game farms, in my opinion (I know many people despise game farms and I have mixed feelings about them, but that’s another topic). In any event, those methods are illegal in Yellowstone and unethical everywhere. When they bait animals, use predator calls to elicit behavior, and harass animals at their dens, they are stealing — they are stealing the wildness from animals, possibly condemning animals to destruction if they continue to seek food from humans, and thus stealing opportunities to observe and photograph wild animals behaving naturally from all of us.

I know that many are cautious about publicly posting on this matter and perhaps they are more sensible that I am. However, I have never been accused of not being opinionated and vocal. In any case, if you have observed illegal and/or unethical behavior on the part of these photographers, or others, please accept my invitation to comment.

Added 6/2/2012
On May 31, 2012, I received a message from a fellow member of the Yellowstone.Net forums who had, the day previously, listened to an outdoor radio program from KFAN radio on which Mr. Tekiela was a guest.  I thank him/her for bringing it to my attention.  After listening to the program, I commented on the Facebook comment thread for the program and sent an email to the station:

A fellow member of a Yellowstone discussion forum site sent me a message today concerning the interview with Stan Tekiela in this program. I visited your site and listened to this program on demand.

I listened with much interested as Mr. Tekiela emphasized how he uses the “largest lenses made” to remain a “great distance” from animals  so as to “not affect behavior” and still be able to achieve excellent images.

How I wish his practices in the field mirrored his words on the air. Unfortunately, I witnessed that the field practices that he and his partner, Nate Lovas, practice in the field are quite different from those of which Mr. Tekiela spoke in this interview when I had the misfortune to encounter them last Saturday (May 26, 2012) in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park at a badger den site.

Rather than type a lengthy post here, I’ll refer you to my two blog posts on the behavior I witnessed, and also to a couple threads on a Yellowstone discussion forum where others who have similarly observed unethical field practices have told of their encounters with Stan Tekiela and Nate Lovas.

http://blog.bigskycountry.net/index.php/2012/05/26/yellowstone-may-26-2012/
http://blog.bigskycountry.net/index.php/2012/05/30/unethical-wildlife-photographers/
http://forums.yellowstone.net/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=13536
http://forums.yellowstone.net/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=13581

I can’t find any fault in Stan Tekiela’s words in this interview at all. However, his deeds do not match his words.

I would ask that you address the disconnect between on-air words and in-field practice when next you interview Mr. Tekiela, as it sounds like he is a regular guest on your program.

Here is a link to the program:
http://www.kfan.com/cc-common/podcast/single_page.html?more_page=1&podcast=KFAN_Outdoors&selected_podcast=fanoutdoors_hr1_5-31-12_1338514360_19064.mp3

30 comments to Unethical Wildlife Photographers

  • Joseph L Halbleib

    Go GET ‘em, Katie! I agree with you…

  • Charles

    I am in total agreement with you, Katie. Thank You for taking a stand and showing these two “Naturalists” that the way they are conducting themselves is not conducive to keeping wildlife wild. Some folks just don’t get it.

  • Paul Kemper

    What if, just what if these people were actually misunderstood? I mean we have not heard anything from their side of the story.
    I’m just playing devil’s advocate here ok.

    Paul in Juneau, AK

  • Dave Parker

    As a published photographer as well as a wildlife safety instructor, I to, have had interactions with these individuals and no, it was not a pleasant experience. They are unethical photographers and authors, who will do anything they can to secure the shot. Personally, the only thing different I would have done is park behind them and find the nearest ranger, I would not have scolded, I have done that in the past with them and they were doing the same thing.

    I hope to be in the right place at the right time one of these days, and alert the rangers so they can take the appropriate actions against them. We don’t need people like this, setting such a bad example. There are to many of those on TV, practicing do what I say, not what I do strategies to get “The Shot!”

  • Paul, I appreciate the Devil’s Advocate question. I really do. That is a role I often play myself.

    However, there isn’t much to misunderstand when someone walks up on a den site, let alone in a National Park. I did engage them in discussion. It wasn’t an accident.

    Furthermore, what I reported is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern of behavior, as reported in comments here, in my other post, on the Yellowstone.Net Forums, and in messages I have received via email and on Facebook since my first post.

  • Melissa J

    You are MUCH kinder than I. I don’t think I could have been as “pleasant” in my response to them…they may very well have found their monopod shoved somewhere they may not have enjoyed! Well done on reporting them. Sometimes I think the Rangers use that as an excuse to not do their jobs. You had photographic proof…I think a ticket should have been issued. Maybe these guys need to be reminded of what happens to unethical photographers…remind them of the story of Jim Cole.

  • ynpfan

    Looks like they both have websites and facebook pages and such. Perhaps folks should start posting their comments directly to these two unethical, unlawful boors to let them and their readers/customers know about their atrocious behavior?

  • Thomas

    While I don’t think it applies in the case of the people you witnessed, how would an amateur photographer particularly a tourist not familiar with the park/area know this is considered unethical behavior?

    I’m not even an amateur photographer, but in any case I wouldn’t have known such a thing was wrong let alone illegal.

    I can easily see the inconsiderate complaint if someone else was trying to take a picture and their camera is blocking the shot. I guess my point is while they probably weren’t ignorant, how many people would be and how would they know better?

  • Jerry

    If you judge it just by what you personally witnessed, and not by all the internet chatter and hear say, it doesn’t seem to be worth trying to destroy a person’s reputation and livelyhood.

    Is there a Photographer that hasn’t been swept up in the moment and gotten too close or made a noise for the subject to look up?
    Let’s all take the beam out of our own eye’s!

  • It’s not just “Internet chatter.” I have had in-person conversations with people I know well who have had prior encounters in which they, too, witnessed illegal and/or unethical activity and in which, they, too, had their experience ruined through the misdeeds of these guys.

    What I witnessed, and what others have witnessed, goes well beyond getting too close or making noise.

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

    It’s more comfortable to do nothing, but I feel strongly compelled to not be silent on this issue.

  • Thomas, Park regulations, which you get upon entering the Park, specify that you must remain 25 yards away from all animals except bears and wolves, from which you must remain 100 yards away. They trespassed on the 25 yard rule to place the camera on the den.

    From the Superintendent’s Compendium:
    “The following are prohibited:
    16. Willfully approaching, remaining, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards of any other wildlife including nesting birds, or within any distance that disturbs, displaces, or otherwise interferes with the free unimpeded movement of wildlife, or creates or contributes to a potentially hazardous condition or situation. 36 CFR § 1.5 (a)(2)
    17. Failure to remove one‟s self to prescribed distances during inadvertent, accidental, casual or surprise encounters with wildlife.”

    Now, I won’t deny that almost any photographer is going to fudge on the distance rules — but ethical photographers will endeavor to not disturb animals. Stomping up on a den, a sensitive site, is certainly disturbing.

    Tekiela is a member of NANPA. Check out NANPA’s code of ethics: http://www.nanpa.org/docs/NANPA-Ethical-Practices.pdf

    They are professionals. The mark of a professional is knowing the rules.

  • Thomas

    Thanks for the response. That is nice and clear.

  • MTNative

    That is when you pick up the camera and holler “hey, someone forgot this! Ooops, I dropped it, sorry. Oh, and stepped on it.”

  • MTNative

    And Jerry, getting swept up in the moment is one thing but mounting your camera outside a den site is a whole different degree of stupidity and jerkness.

  • ynpfan

    There’s another avenue…perhaps complaining to NANPA about these members and their continued failure to follow the code of ethics (and the law)?

    And while you’re at it, send these two a copy of the emails/posts, so they know that people are complaining about them in these various venues.

  • ynpfan – As it happens, I became aware of the NANPA membership through a friend who thought that NANPA might be interested, as their Ethical Field Practices are part of their Position Statement (which I think is GREAT!). I used the contact form on their website yesterday with a link to this blog post. I received a response in less than an hour thanking me for bringing it to their attention and telling me that my message and email address had been forwarded to their ethics committee.

  • aj

    IGNORANCE of the law does not excuse one’s actions. In this case, it seems the above-photographers should be well aware of what is right to do in the park and what is wrong. As citizens, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and allow citizens to interpret the rules and laws as they see fit. If every person visiting YNP ignored the rules, the park would be destroyed. In my 30 years visiting YNP I have seen many, many so called “professional photographers” push the envelope, and get too close to make “The Shot”. This is unethical behavior and should be reported at every opportunity. We do not visit the park to police it, our intention in correcting behavior is to educate visitors and to protect them.

  • ethicalphotog

    There’s yet another avenue available.

    Go to Amazon and leave book reviews which tell people about the photographers’ illegal and unethical practices.

    Might hurt their book sales a bit.

  • I wonder if this man can even look himself in the mirror? I would like to see somebody take some photographs of him up close when he is at home in his den and see how he feels.

  • Adventure woman

    I think this man is a real piece of work.
    I would love to know when he is coming back out here so we could all have a “friendly” conversation with him (Tekiela).

    Ad woman

  • Ron Dudley

    I’m delighted that you made this post Katie. I’ve seen this kind of field behavior so often from folks who obviously know better but are still willing to do it and hope that nobody calls them on it. Well, you did and I say bravo!

    I like your style, your pluck and your photography – much of it is close to my heart as I’m a Montana native and go back often.

    Keep up the good work, on both fronts.

  • Katie,

    Thanks for writing this post. I’ve also seen this kind of behavior from photographers that should know better. The “anything to get the shot” mentality is very disturbing and when people like these give workshops they infect a whole new group of photographers.

  • catbutt

    Katie, keep up the good work and keep us updated on how things go! I’m also contacting (civilly) the same organizations and urging action on their parts – specifically requesting that the Yellowstone Organization not carry Stan’s book, the radio host ask some probing questions when the next opportunity arises, and that NANPA honestly review the behavior of these people. I will probably have some free time on Amazon this week too, just to educate any potential buyers of their books of their terrible methods.

    Throwing hot dogs? Hushing enthusiastic visitors? How disrespectful of wildlife can someone get? These two practically spit on the beautiful experience that brings me back to Yellowstone whenever I get a chance, I think it’s abhorrent. They should be held accountable for their behavior, I fully support you Katie!

  • I have been following this closely, do you have any updated information on this situation? Was there any ever any action taken as far as you know by local authorities?
    There are things surfacing here locally about this person and we need to figure out if he is a person worth helping in the future.

    Craig (MN DNR)

  • Nothing came of this situation, as far as I know. I’ve seen others post of witnessing unethical field behavior on the part of Stan Tekiela and having confrontations with him, though:

    Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10200150286413211.2181733.1032557688&type=3

    Part 2: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200166746104693&set=pb.1032557688.-2207520000.1364927835&type=3&theater

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  • Dusty

    I completely understand how and why social justice is considered the best way to deal with what looks like unrepentant and knowledgeable wrong doers

    however I do think it is a mistake to not first seek some sort of a dispute resolution, whether it be consentual or alternative doesn’t matter so long as the process is attempted.

    Believe me I know how hard it is to remain neutral when the matter is either personal or related to your profession, but there must be a better protocol because when WE aren’t conscious of OUR actions, it becomes all to easy to have resolutions become part of the problem

    when resolutions become part of the problem, there are only two options available; Revolution (which should only be an absolute last resort since we are talking about Global in terms of parameters) or let nature take care of the problem.

    Wjile it sounds like the natural way would be the best route, you have to remember that “life” does not devolve, and there is a difference between “human nature” and “nature” so unless you are literally the badger and would rather have human nature be erased from existence, Humans Beings typically opt for revolution over letting nature take its course.

    I would advocate taking the route wherein resolution actually solves problems, and not becomes part of another, greater problem. It happens all too often that re-education of the truth in reality does not happen when it is possible, and that is really a shame because it is a step in the slippery slope direction where resolutions become part of the problem

    to which there are only two options

    please first attempt dispute resolution before taking it from color, to black and white realms

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