Don’t Shoot! We’re Animals!

Never mind the ethics of paparazzi who torment celebrities. Bill McKibben wants the commercial photographers who shoot wildlife to lay down their Leicas.

Writing in the fall issue of Doubletake–Robert Coles’ slick magazine of essays, photographs, reportage, and poetry–McKibben accuses commercial wildlife photographers of needlessly stressing caribou and other critters by stalking them by airplane. He also damns them for staging the “jillions to one” pictures of emerald boas eating parrots because it creates false expectations of what the wilderness is all about. Evidence that the public has gone mad on wildlife photography can be found in Yellowstone Park, he says, where wildlife porn (Chatterbox’s phrase, not McKibben’s) has convinced tourists that bears are approachable beasts. In fact, bears that become habituated to people usually end up getting snuffed by rangers because they become dangerous pests.

McKibben’s solution? A moratorium on new commercial wildlife photography. He calls on the top nature magazines and TV shows to pick a date and refuse to purchase any photos taken after that. It’s not as if there aren’t enough photographs. One magazine art director points out that she reviewed 10,000 slides of elephants a few years ago while planning a story on them.

This isn’t censorship, it’s editing, McKibben writes. “Self-restraint is the uniquely human gift, the one talent no other creature or community possesses even as a possibility.”