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.
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.
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.
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.