Foxes, Whistleblowing, Cancel Culture, and David Yarrow

Foxes, Whistleblowing, Cancel Culture, and David Yarrow

If you haven't seen the tempest growing in Wyoming, a fox named 15M was euthanized this week because of its growing habituation to humans. You might be asking, why is this news on a photo-centric site? Throw in an as-of-recently much-maligned, world-famous photographer and maybe you're interested?

Let's start with these assumptions and rules:

  1. Nobody should be afraid to point out what looks like wrongdoing, even if the alleged wrongdoer is a famous photographer; 
  2. Whistleblowers, for lack of a better word, should not be punished for speaking out if their intention is an honest one;
  3. We should not rush to judgment, we should make sure we get all the facts; and,
  4. We should do our best to avoid the cancel culture that comes part and parcel with a rush to judgment.

Colter Bay Incident From Taxis' Point of View

According to Jackson Hole photographer Tiffany Taxis, David Yarrow's crew members lured a wild fox using food for a photograph. For those of you not into wildlife photography, this is a no-no. Taxis snapped an image of a portion of the interaction between Yarrow's crew and the foxes.

Yarrow on the ground, crew member in blue with hand raised. Courtesy of Tiffany Taxis.

Yarrow is the photographer on the ground. One of his crew is holding something in his hand and what appears to be a bag above his head while a pair of red foxes flirt with Yarrow's camera. Taxis maintains that just before this moment the crew member in blue dropped something on the ground. Many who understand what wildlife luring is might assume that this was food. 

Taxis explained to me that just before she snapped this image, Yarrow turned to the crew member in blue and said something she couldn't quite hear. 

I think that Taxis was a bit intimidated at the time. There were several men in Yarrow's crew and Taxis was shooting alone. Those are my words, not hers. I think Taxis is brave for calling out a world-famous photographer. Ethical wildlife photographers do not do lure animals. Luring animals with food or comfort can change their innate behavior and potentially habituate them.

A Quick Side Trip to McDonald's

There is also a rumor on various social media channels about the foxes being fed Big Macs. I've had a chance to talk to truth_animal through Instagram. truth_animal shared a few screenshots from Joe Brandl's Facebook feed. Brandl is the figure with the cowboy hat and duster in Taxis' image. These screenshots show Brandl commenting that the fox was fed Big Macs and joking that the fox had used up its three strikes and is out. I'm assuming that's a euphemism for its eventually culling. I reached out to Brandl for comment and he confirmed that his comments were a joke. Perhaps not all that funny to wildlife photographers or conservationists, but a joke nonetheless. To be clear, Taxis did not mention McDonald's burgers in our conversation. Her view wasn't clear enough for that. For many talking about habituated foxes facing euthanasia because of human and animal interaction won't be seen as funny. Humor is a fickle and a time-sensitive thing. 

To be clear, Yarrow is responsible for what Brandl does on his set, but he can't be held responsible for off-the-cuff comments made by Brandl after a shoot.  

Director on Set

I've written about Yarrow before and have no qualms maintaining that his involvement with Animals of Montana ("AoM") was a bad thing for animal welfare. Which, for the record, he has acknowledged. Yarrow has gone on record stating that he will not use animal sanctuaries in the United States again. 

As the photographer in charge of a shoot, I'm convinced that the buck stops with Yarrow. So, when a tiger managed to cause a fuss in Detroit's old Packard Plant on one of his shoots, any responsibility is Yarrow's. Just like here, the actions of his crew are his responsibility. 

Hearing Taxis' story, I reached out to Yarrow for comment. 

Colter Bay Incident From Yarrow's Point of View

Yarrow told me point blank that he did not instruct his crew to lure the fox with food. In a no-names conversation, the crew member in the blue coat told me that he did not drop food. 

Yarrow explained to me that he was out at Colter Bay to shoot images for his story of the American West project.

Yarrow's work from the shoot in question.

According to Yarrow, the idea to shoot the foxes was a passing thought as he wrapped the editorial shoot. 

Yarrow does admit that he and his crew clicked their fingers or flicked snow to get the fox to briefly look up.

This may put me on the wrong side of certain wildlife photographers, but I've shifted in my seat or clicked my tongue to encourage a lion or polar bear to look my way. I'm not stomping, I'm not feeding, I'm shifting. If Yarrow is telling the truth, I'm not surprised. With foxes darting all over, a snap or click might attract them for just a brief moment. 

Where Are We Now?

The Jackson Hole News & Guide has reported that the fox in question, 15M, was euthanized this week. 

According to Teton Park Science and Resource Chief Gus Smith, quoted in the JHN&G, the Park has been looking to capture and euthanize this specific fox since the middle of last year. Apparently, 15M has jumped into occupied golf carts or onto picnic tables being used for picnics. 

All reports suggest that the fox was not euthanized because of the interaction with Yarrow's crew.

In reference to the incident, Jamie Joseph of Saving the Wild has written

Yarrow is not the only person to blame, but someone with such a large following should be setting a good example, rather than create a movement of photographers who bait wild animals and exploit them through staged photography where they are forced to live in cages the size of prison cells. 

I completely agree. 

It's my impression that Yarrow does as well. I could sense contrition in Yarrow. In fact, he told me that he believes that he can feel contrition even if he didn't do anything wrong. He went on to say:

. . .  people see me as someone they have regard for, it is imperative that I always conduct myself, leaving no room for ambiguity, to exemplary standards. Last week, I Ieft room for ambiguity. I can be crystal clear that we were not luring. 

Now What, Cancel Yarrow?

The Parks Service is investigating the luring incident. They have not issued any type of finding or release. 

I have no doubt that Taxis is sharing a story that she believes in. So, until the investigation is finished, until we have firm proof of what happened, do we just lock Yarrow up and throw away the key?

Even if you consider Yarrow's historical record and involvement with AoM, that doesn't have any bearing on this investigation. Yarrow would be the first to say that he's learned from AoM. Saving the Wild and Yarrow even put out a joint press release to specifically note Yarrow's mea culpa in relation to AoM. 

Why push Yarrow to be better if we're not going to give him the chance to do so?

Do we just cancel Yarrow? Or do we give him the due process we afford everyone else?

Yarrow's work in Teton National Park.
I'll hold Yarrow to a high standard. He represents wildlife photographers, even if he doesn't want to. Taxis is right to bring her story to light. We should support her in doing so. But, I'm not going to cancel Yarrow until we've let this run its course. 

I find it interesting that although we live in an increasingly complicated and nuanced world, we've drifted into a polarized approach to almost everything. I'm willing to see the gray. I'm willing to make room for ambiguity as long as we maintain a certain floor of civility; in this case, a certain floor of ethics and conservation.

All images provided by Tiffany Taxis and David Yarrow.

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58 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

Mark,

I am so impressed at the true piece of investigative journalism that you have given to us. Interviewing Taxis and Yarrow, and relaying their responses to us, gives us a much better, more informed view of this situation than we would have had otherwise.

I had, of course, been aware of this story right from the start, as it has been right at the top of the page with many of the media sources I frequent. But I had not seen direct quotes from either of the parties involved until reading this article of yours.

I agree that we should take the time to look into things further whenever we hear rumors of wrongdoing, or when we hear just one side of a story.

I tend to believe Yarrow when he said that his crew was not feeding food to the foxes.

Why do I believe him?

Because his explanation aligns with some of my own experiences with wild foxes and other habituated wildlife. I have myself noticed that with some highly habituated animals, just a sweep of my arm causes them to come up to me. I assume that they are used to people tossing them food, and all one has to do is to simulate the tossing motion, and the critters will come up to them, because they think food is being tossed to them.

It should be noted that it is not always unlawful to feed wildlife in order to get photos, or for any other purpose. There are plenty of places where feeding wildlife is not against the law. For example, many people put out birdseed for the songbirds in their backyard, and hummingbird feeders for the hummingbirds. And this is legal to do on one's own property in almost any state or municipality.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Wow Tom. Thanks. I appreciate the comment. I really wasn't sure what to expect when I was writing this.

Ambiguity is everywhere. I think ambiguity and the grey areas needs to be embraced and polarization shunned. Extreme view points should still be questioned or called out. But I feel we're throwing out anything that is slightly different than our own views to score points. Baby, bathwater and all that.

I'm not condoning all philosophies or approaches, but, outside of the extreme / unacceptable, we should be able to have a discussion.

Moreover, Taxis should be able to share what she saw and Yarrow be able to answer without driving this to an existential crisis.

Thanks again.

Sargent Schutt's picture

The witness saw him and his crew repeatedly taking something out of a bag and throwing it on the ground, and the foxes subsequently being lured toward it and appearing to eat whatever it was that had commanded their attention. Yarrow and crew were behaving with the direct intent to control the behavior of the wild animals for purposes of taking photos. They were directly contributing to the habituation of the animals to humans. This leads to the death of the animals. Over and over and over.

We have a very well-known expression here in Jackson Hole: "a fed animal is a dead animal'. It applies to bears, foxes, moose and others. It is a widely known truth, and it would be impossible for Yarrow not to know this given his history.

It is self-evident from the way his crew was heard talking to the animals, and their decision to bait them, that he doesn't care if the animals die, as long as he gets his photoshop material. Period. I hope he gets banned from our National Parks and never returns. No one in his position should be doing what he is in the habit of doing.

If he wants to bait animals to earn a living, he should be shooting them in a zoo. He has no right to be profiting from the destruction of wildlife in our national parks. He just doesn't.

James Mlodynia's picture

There are many things that people do that may not be against the law but they are still morally wrong.

Braeden Roesler's picture

It's really a tough and unfortunate situation all around and hard to make a judgement either way.

I will say, however, that David and his crew's hands aren't entirely clean-handed during this incident either, even giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Even if you throw out the assumption of them feeding or baiting the foxes with food, they are still violating park rules/laws by being that close to the foxes, within feet, which is nowhere near the 25-yard (75ft) requirement inside Grand Teton National Park. Even if the foxes had approached them (most likely due to their existing habituation) and broken that distance barrier, it is still the responsibility of park-goers to maintain that distance, and move away or scare the animal off, keeping a safe distance and not affecting the behavior of the animal. Trying to lure them by waving things in their hands (food or not) or getting attention by flicking snow doesn't help that distance situation one bit. By them being that close to the foxes without moving away or scaring them off, they are actively contributing to the animals' habituation to humans, and reinforces the behavior and idea that it's "OK" to be within feet of people, the exact thing we're trying to avoid here and which has been the issue.

The man in blue, Tom Rosenthal according to local articles, noted in the same local article about this incident after the fact, that he denied throwing food to the foxes, and that if he threw anything of intrigue to the animals, that it was a cellophane wrapper from a pack of cigarettes (which isn't snow). Throwing wrappers out on the ground (especially on a frozen lake and in a Natl. Park) is littering. That's illegal too. Even if he picked it up before leaving, the fox could have thought it was food in the moment and ingested it. Regardless of what was or wasn't thrown, it's apparent the fox (upper right) is sniffing in the snow for something, implying something landed there.

Not mentioned in this article, but going by the same local articles I mentioned earlier about the incident, Taxis' account did have a quote on what she had heard by the crew, specifically (man to fox): "You better do what I tell you to do or I'm going to shoot you". Now, who knows if he actually had a gun on him or would ever follow through, but even then, that's not the first thing that comes to mind that I or anyone I know would say to an animal, regardless of the circumstances, and while not illegal like the earlier points, only reinforces the lack of respect or importance that this fox means to them, and how expendable of a creature it seems.

Again, all of those are assuming that Yarrow or his crew never gave food to the foxes or used it to lure them in closer (without actually feeding them). When it comes to that, there's no real way of knowing either way. There is proof that something happened during this encounter, but there isn't direct evidence that food was involved. There also isn't evidence that they didn't feed them, though, other than their word. It comes down to one person's word against another. Personally, I don't think I can make a judgement either way without more evidence, which will probably never surface, but that doesn't change how I feel about the other points I made earlier and how I feel about this entire encounter.They are still in the wrong and breaking park rules either way. He is world-famous and has photographed animals before and all over the world, I'd like to say he should know better, and like your article said, the buck stops with him, even if it's a crew member who's stepping out of line. Yarrow is there too and in-charge, and let it happen, and continued snapping away. Because of Yarrow's reputation of pushing ethical boundaries in his wildlife photography, both in Montana and abroad, I think is why it's not so entirely difficult or far-fetched for many to see him or his crew doing something like this, or allegedly baiting wildlife.

But, Yes, David Yarrow and his crew was *not* the reason this fox was euthanized. Unfortunately, thousands of other humans across the span of several years are to blame for his demise. I've seen firsthand both foxes in the image (Including 15M) getting food from and being habituated with ice-fishermen on the lake, and am aware of them receiving food year-round from fishermen, campers, tourists, and I'm sure other photographers who have baited with food. Like mentioned earlier, even people not feeding these animals but getting close for pictures or letting them hang around their campsites or ice-fishing groups still habituates them and adds to the problem. This fox, 15M, was slated by the Park Service to be captured and euthanized since last summer due to several previous years of feeding and habituation, which is far before Yarrow's recent incident. He is not the one to blame for this, and doesn't deserve blame and hate and complete cancelling, but he is not blameless for his actions, either, and should still be held responsible for what he did do wrong. We need more people like Tiffany Taxis. When people see behavior from humans where they are feeding animals, or too close, or otherwise breaking park rules and laws or behaving questionably, to speak up to those people and tell them it's wrong and why, or reporting it to park authorities. This is a huge issue not just in Grand Teton park, but in Yellowstone and I'm sure countless other parks around the country and world. Speaking up and practicing law-abiding behavior that respects wildlife can be the thing that saves an animal's life. I'm appalled by what I see and hear of in Yellowstone and GTNP, and as a regular to both parks, I try to hold the wildlife and ecosystem to as high of a standard as I can, to be ethical in my photography, and to educate others as much as possible so everyone has a safe, yet fruitful trip.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Thanks for taking so much time to think about this and respond.

I'm torn - I don't disagree with you that photographers should move away - but - sometimes that's not possible. Also, wild animals don't usually pay much attention to people unless they are ALREADY habituated through feeding. I've been a few feet from gorilla, penguin, leopard . . . all who walked past me and there was no way I was causing a ruckus to move away for my own safety and that of the animal. None of these animals showed more than slight curiosity as to what I was. I think that's because they've never been fed by people. That being said, I think we're pretty much on the same page.

As for proof, I don't think that anyone has to prove they didn't do something (except in the rarest of incidents). However, the Park should still investigate.

Thanks again.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

"I'm torn - I don't disagree with you that photographers should move away - but - sometimes that's not possible."

I mean we can all see the photo. He's lying there taking a photo of the fox. Of course he could have moved away.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

According to those I talked to, the whole thing took about 5 minutes. If Yarrow laid down while the foxes were 45 feet away and then the foxes walked towards him, he may not have had time to move away before the foxes were “on” him. Especially when looking through a longer lens, distance can be a bit fuzzy.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

If Yarrow laid down and then the foxes walked towards him Yarrow could have stood up and walked away. Its not as if he literally didn't have two people standing above him who could have told him what was happening. It doesn't take five minutes to stand up. We can see the photo.

And do you really expect me to believe that a seasoned photographer can't tell how far away their subject is when looking through their own lens?

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Commenting below Braeden's comment.

Braeden Roesler's picture

Yes, it's not always possible, but in this instance it definitely was, and that's the park's policy themselves to visitors on if an animal gets closer to you than the minimum distance (25 yards or 100 yards depending on the animal), that it is your responsibility to move further back unless you are in a vehicle or a ranger is explicitly allowing you to be closer than that distance, or a rare instance like you mentioned where one is simply passing by and you have nowhere to go. A few feet inside of that distance limit isn't going to make much of a difference, but a few feet away from the animal while continuing to photograph is a huge difference and big no-no, especially in a situation like this where the animal is habituated and is actively interacting with you or your party, again, in the national park and with these kinds of animals, I'm not saying nobody can be within feet of any animal anywhere.

The spot this incident happened is on a flat frozen lake (Jackson Lake) next to the village of Colter Bay (there is a long parking lot next to the shore of the lake with about 50 yards of land separating the lot from the shore with multiple trails), there is unlimited space in all directions to move to, as well as going back to the parking lot and vehicles (which would be behind the camera near where Taxis was). Even if one is incapable of moving, interacting with the animals trying to get their attention or pretend you've got things in your hand is making them habituated with you and think it's ok to be there. I've very briefly photographed these two foxes myself (from a safe distance near the parking lot area), and even when they came closer, I was able to move quickly. They also didn't seem actively interested in me as the other people on the lake (ice-fishermen), because I had no food, and wasn't trying to get their attention waving my hand like I did have some. I could've stayed there for hours taking advantage of their habituation and letting them get close and get hundreds or thousands of shots of them, but I only got a few photos as I moved back and then got in my car to go talk to a ranger showing them photos I had gotten of the foxes being fed and snooping through ice-fishermen camps. One thing for sure, is when the animal you're shooting suddenly has it's entire face filling the frame in the camera with your telephoto lens, is that it's coming closer and is too close (again, these animals and in the national parks).

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I can see your points, Mark and Braedon. I wasn't there and I don't know the actual distance between Yarrow and the foxes. I also don't know how quickly the foxes moved towards him and if he got up or not once he realized just how close they were - as I said, the entire interaction was about 5 minutes. The photo wasn't taken over 5 minutes.

Let's assume for the sake of the argument that the foxes are around 10 feet away, or 3 yards (ish). You're right, that's inside the limit. When there are habituated animals around, photographers have an additional obligation to move on.

I can agree with that in principle.

I have a question - I've been to Rwanda and the South Georgia where despite setting up beyond the distance requirements, the animals have moved towards me. What are the obligations at that point? If I am going out to photograph the animals, constantly moving away is going to disturb the animal to the point where there are no photos. At a place like PNV or Salisbury Plain, I could make such a ruckus moving about that I could disturb dozens if not thousands of animals. What do I do then?

If your answers are definitive that I should move away - why go? If we don't go, there is NO tourist money and the animals don't get the protect they need.

I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm curious as to what your opinion is.

As a side note, I'm a relatively experience photographer, I've had leopards walk towards me with my face stuck to the viewfinder - the interaction happens so quickly that when I lifted my head, I was shocked to see how close the cat actually was.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

"What are the obligations at that point? If I am going out to photograph the animals, constantly moving away is going to disturb the animal to the point where there are no photos. At a place like PNV or Salisbury Plain, I could make such a ruckus moving about that I could disturb dozens if not thousands of animals. What do I do then?"

You are looking for ways to bend the rules. Your obligations should be ALWAYS clear. Follow the rules. If the process of moving away means you are going to make a ruckus that could disturb thousands of animals then you obviously shouldn't be there in the first place.

"If your answers are definitive that I should move away - why go? If we don't go, there is NO tourist money and the animals don't get the protect they need."

I think the answer is that obviously the rules aren't as hard to follow as you want to make them out to be. How many people won't visit Coltor Bay because of the current rules? The foxes aren't forcing you to break the rules. And if you are intending to go to Coltor Bay with the intent of breaking the rules then, yes, perhaps its better to just stay home. There are more than enough responsible people out there to keep the tourist dollars flowing in.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I’m not talking about Coltor Bay. I’ve agreed that people could move away. I think your rush to judge Yarrow considering the evidence is a photo and not a video presupposed how much time passed. But. I do agree. In principle.
I’m not looking to bend the rules, I’m asking about a different situation. Black and white doesn’t always work.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

In your rush to judge me on my comments you failed to notice I haven't judged Yarrow at all. My comments here are entirely about judgements and statements you have made. You were the one who argued "he may not have had time to walk away." Debating that premise is NOT judging Yarrow.

I can't think of any circumstances where if "not breaking the rules would mean disturbing thousands of animals" would lead to any other conclusion than you shouldn't be there in the first place. Sometimes black and white does work: especially in the face of increasingly absurd hypotheticals.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I think we're talking at cross purposes here . . .

You said, speaking of Yarrow: "Of course he could have moved away." AND "Yarrow could have stood up and walked away. Its not as if he literally didn't have two people standing above him who could have told him what was happening. It doesn't take five minutes to stand up. We can see the photo."

However, I'm happy to move on from that discussion.

My questions to you are not hypotheticals, I asked specifically about PNV and South Georgia. Both places have benefited from (and maybe need) tourism. Constantly moving away would be impossible. In both places, you typically set up at distance. The animals in each location may decide to inspect you. There isn't THAT much you can do, except not go. If you're saying don't go, these places loose a decent chunk of protection that tourism has offered them.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

"However, I'm happy to move on from that discussion."

I'm not. You said I was "judging Yarrow." I actually don't particularly care about Yarrow. The comments you quoted weren't passing judgment on Yarrow, they were addressing points that you made, specifically "sometimes that's not possible" and "he may not have had time to move away before the foxes". Do you understand the difference?

As for PNV and South Georgia: unless you are advocating for breaking the rules there as well then they aren't relevant examples. The point is that there were rules in place at Coltor and Yarrow allegedly broke those rules. If he did the same thing at PNV and South Georgia but that same thing didn't break the rules, then his behavior is perfectly fine.

So if you are asking us to pretend that the rules at PNV and South Georgia are different to what they are then yes, we are discussing a hypothetical. So are we doing the former or the latter?

Sargent Schutt's picture

Yarrow and his crew were witnessed demonstrating extreme disrespect for the animals. They knew better than to do what they were doing, and did it anyway.

"The fox came running up and probably got about a foot away of the photographer,” Taxis said. “And then one of the men standing next to him said [to the fox], ‘You better do what I tell you to do or I’m going to shoot you.’”

It's obvious from context that he meant 'shoot you with a gun and kill you if you don't respond to our baiting'.

Yarrow got busted red-handed, he's lying again, and should have known better than to condone and participate in the entire scene. I would go so far as to say photographing the fox, which were known to be habituated, is fair game, but once you even pretend to feed them to draw them closer, you are participating in their training. Whether you give them a reward or not is a moot point.

Sargent Schutt's picture

What is clear from the credible witness and the direct photo evidence is this:

1. Yarrow and his crew exercised no respect for the wildlife, and they view them as expendable.

2. Yarrow and crew did not move away when they very easily could have, quite the opposite: They made calculated decisions to lure the fox as close as possible to them.

3. Yarrow and crew used their knowledge of baiting and food/human habituation to lure the animal closer. Whether the animal actually received a food reward or not is a moot point. The animal was baited by their actions, evidenced by their concurrent decision not to move away, but rather to remain in place as they intentionally, successfully lured the animal closer.

Furthermore, Yarrow's history precedes him; This was not his first rodeo.

John Sammonds's picture

If you are going to use a word please understand the meaning of the word....Euthanize to kill an animal because it is very old or sick or because there is no one to take care of it: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/euthanize

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I believe that the (OED) definition also includes "because a person or animal is suffering from an incurable condition." I'd suggest that the habituation is an incurable condition.

I'm not sure if you're engaging me over how can habituation be an incurable condition, which I do find to be an interesting conversation.

Anyway, a modern definition also includes "put to death humanely."

I'm confident I've used the term in both a traditional and more modern sense correctly.

Darin Simmons's picture

The technical term is "destroy". I haven't seen the term used that way in the press for a decade or two. "If a racing horse pulls up lame, it is often destroyed." We use words like "put down" or "euthanize" colloquially. ( https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/destroy 2.a ) ( https://www.lexico.com/definition/destroy 1.3).

I am not here to nitpick English. I think that the context of this (very well done) article and small thread is about humans interaction with animals; and also, how do we frame it.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I think you make a very interesting point about the framing. Perhaps if we used the term destroy people would take the whole thing more seriously.

Consider me converted.

Are you in the animal industry?

Tom Reichner's picture

Definitions of words are always in a constant state of flux. The definition of something is not set; rather, definitions are based on how a word is used colloquially, and such usage changes and shifts over time. It is clear that the term "euthanize" is being used more liberally that it was used in the past, and includes more situations than it previously included. The definition is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago, because definitions are based on colloquial usage, not vice versa.

Marcin Świostek's picture

Kudos for standing up for the truth and taking a breath before jumping to conclusions. A rare quality in journalism these days.

Stephen Berry's picture

A well rounded, unbiased article that presents the facts in a clear, and concise way, whilst steer clear of sensational sweeping titles and/or statements. Journalists the world over could learn a lesson or two from you, Mark.

Simon Hartmann's picture

I really appreciate this piece of proper journalism. First rule in any Accusation is and should always be: talk to everyon in question.

For the matter of wildlife: i agree with being watchful over behaviour towards animals. But the level of some people in these comments are aomewhat ridiculous. There are so many big bad things going on against nature in the world, so if the photogropher didn’t immediately ran away back to the mentioned minum dostance from the fox and snapped a picture first i hardly find too much of a wrongdoing there. I guess he is easy to accuse. And in Western culture people just love to blame others a little too much imo.

Jonathan Lee's picture

Very fair and balanced write up Mark.

Thank you for not diving into the sensationalism which many journos and 'keyboard warriors' would be tempted into. Cancel culture is sadly ironic because even if well intentioned, when taken to the extreme, just discredits the cause it stands for, and makes the work of those who actually do the due dilligence on important matters tougher. I found very little newsworthy about the actual facts of this case - Ms Taxis alleges that she saw something and nade a report to the appropriate body, who are running an investigation. Surely we need to let that run its course before passing sweeping judgement, and, following the right process also means taking the time to listen to David. I am glad you have done just that and given us an objective view.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Taxis herself, because after she did the right thing in filing a report, she has since gone on to take matters into her own hands with social media sensationalism, misrepresentation of the facts, and calling for a rather incredibly poorly thought out petition to ban Yarrow from national parks.

Sadly, this petition is not accompanied by the balanced view people like you provide, but just passed on laced with venom and fueled by schadenfreude. It is a very sad day indeed for lovers of the natural world and photography to see this. In a world where everyone hides behind screens, people do not feel the impact of casting stones at real humans. As another commenter pointed out, name me one wildlife photographer who hasnt tried to get an animal's attention with a sound or motion.

I think you are making important points and I just hope more people pass this around than the sensationalist sound bytes on social media.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Thanks. My goal was to find a balance and to talk to both sides of this debate.

I don't have a problem with Taxis pushing for something that she believes in. The petition will not 'create' a ban, but, it will encourage the Park to take the accusations and evidence seriously. Given the power differential between Yarrow and Taxis, I think that this kind of action can level the playing field if used properly.

I do agree with your comments about casting stones.

Tom Martin's picture

Setting aside the specifics of whether the evidence supports Yarrow or Taxis, I would like to point out that there is more nuance to this instance of "cancel culture"

Typically, cancel culture comes for someone doing something in there personal life that a crowd of angry folks on the internet rally against and get all aspects of that person's career cancelled. Actor tweets something political that offends people and gets fired from their unrelated acting job, for example. The big difference here is, if it was true that the foxes were being lured with food, that is specifically related to the job Yarrow was doing at the time, and the petition is specifically requesting only that aspect of Yarrow's career where he was allegedly misbehaving be cancelled (banned from National Parks).

I agree that we should allow evidence to carry the day, but a firsthand account from a witness who appears to be reliable is evidence. And the proposed punishment does fit the crime in a way that isn't typical of the usual cancel culture you reference.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I can see your point in respect of how you're defining 'cancel culture.' I don't entirely agree - but I think that that is besides the point

As I commented above, I don't have any issues with Taxis' petition. It won't 'create' a ban, but, it may encourage the Parks to take it seriously. Given the power differential between Yarrow and Taxis, I think that this kind of action can level the playing field if used properly.

I also agree that Taxis is reliable. But, witnesses are notoriously unreliable as a general rule, and so we have to make room for the Park to investigate.

Sargent Schutt's picture

By that reasoning, no matter how reliable the witness or the evidence, they should not be believed unless others who were also not there (Rangers) decide that based on the same evidence from the same witness... the witness should be believed? Instead, we are to believe the perpetrator?

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I’m saying that witnesses are known to be unreliable in a criminal context. That’s a theory developed through hundreds of studies.
I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t believe witnesses, I just think we should let the process work through. Saying a witness saw something isn’t determinative for me.
Judges aren’t usually at the scene of a crime and we have mostly agreed to let them decide criminal cases.

Sargent Schutt's picture

Well, by that measure, we commonly let juries decide criminal matters as well, and juries *are* made up of the same people as any given group of people on the internet. In this case, the photos speak volumes, even if you think Taxis is completely fabricating everything else. There is also the matter of Yarrow's reputation, which is seemingly very in line with Taxis' observations.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I don't disagree re juries, good point - but, they are usually much more directed by the judge in respect of evidence than people understand.
In terms of Yarrow's reputation, I also don't disagree, but, I'm trying to give him the room to get better. He has recently apologized. So, I'm trying to focus on the here and now and not the past.

Sargent Schutt's picture

He recently apologized, and then he did this. He's not learning. He's an old dog, and it seems self-evident his trick routine is not going to change. I hope I'm wrong, but I sincerely doubt it. He's earned a solid reputation for making bad decisions around animals.To hear the cruel regard for animals the people around expressed (per the witness)... Bad actors, all the way around.

Brian Hilgert's picture

I’m calling BS on this one. I do not condone baiting wildlife to get a photo. I do not condone what Yarrow does to get his photos of wildlife. This whole story reads of sensationalism and not a whistleblower event. If you interviewed Tiffany Taxis then did she not say to you the very statements she made on her instagram account? If she did, you did not report them all. It seems as if she was also there to photograph the well know, habituated, Red Foxes. I would be willing to bet on it since she also has a photo of the same fox on her instagram account. I also ask why would Tiffany Taxis make statements on instagram after reporting the incident to the proper authorities, especially if she doesn’t have proof they actually threw food to the fox. I support anyone going to the proper authorities to report what they think is illegal but if you don’t have actual proof then why open yourself to possible legal issues by making unproven allegations on social media.
The park service had been looking for the fox in question since the summer, as stated in sever articles about this incident. The fox was not destroyed because of anything that any person involved that day did. Personally I also would have made noise or some movement to get the attention of the fox if I was there, would you seriously do anything different if you were there trying to get a photo of the fox?

Sargent Schutt's picture

I live here, and I would never, ever bait an animal to get it to approach me. I would also not make motions as though I were offering it a food reward, because that too is participating in the training of the animal to respond to baiting. Whether Yarrow did or did not provide food to the animal from the bag he was reaching into for the supposed offering, he was still participating in the baiting of the animal by drawing on it's known habituation and previous training. Did he actually give it food? We may never know. Would he lie about it if he did? I have no doubt he would, based on his actions, statements and history.

Brian Hilgert's picture

Most people going to this area aren’t feeding the foxes to get a photo. Generally speaking the foxes walk close enough to them to get a photo because someone else has already fed and habituated them. I have never been to this area but have heard about the foxes for years. Any person going to take photos here of the foxes is adding to the problem of habitualizing them. The national parks have asked for years to stop coming in winter because of the extra stress it puts on wildlife, especially loud snow mobiles. If the parks aren’t going to close off areas to the public then the behaviors of people will not change either. People are the problem. I appreciate your high level of ethics around wildlife, however I think you represent a incredibly small percentage of the thousands of people coming through that area each year.

Sargent Schutt's picture

We get millions of uneducated people through our area every year, and there will always be idiots who don't know any better. Yarrow, however, damn well knows better.

The animals get habituated to people and food rewards, and they begin congregating near campgrounds (Colter Bay is the largest one in GTNP). As a result, they give up their natural animal 'lifestyles' in favor of easier alternatives. This leads them to be near roads as well, which results in them being run over, or becoming nuisances and getting destroyed by the government.

We have this problem all the way through the Park and down into Jackson with all manner of animals. Moose, deer, fox, bears... Idiots get too close, they try to bait them, and problems result.

Again, Yarrow knows this, but rather than being an ambassador for the animals who have paid his rent for so long, he exploits and contributes to their ostensive delinquency instead. He should be ashamed, but given his history, and having read his response, he clearly isn't.

As for people feeding foxes to get photos? Hell yes they are. I see it all the time. I'm on that lake most of the summer, and the foxes are always near the campgrounds, and I can't even count how many times I've seen tourists doing whatever they can to get close for photos. Add what people do at their nearby campsites into the mix (where all the food is) and any Park Ranger will tell you it's a serious problem.

Yarrow, as someone who knows better, should be giving back to the safety of the wildlife, rather than contributing to its maligned habituation.

Eric Robinson's picture

Baiting for wildlife photography along with the setting up of shots is now totally out of control. I attended a Zoom presentation recently given by a former wildlife photographer of the year whose winning entry was not only a set up but was achieved through presenting the bird with bait to lure it into position. She actually showed photos of her self in position with the bait clearly shown. No shame. She also told stories of collecting road kill for later use along with stories of other photographers using dog food to lure in bears and wolverines for a photo opportunity. It’s an area that has become over commercialised. From set up photos of kingfishers in specially arranged tanks filled with minnows to luring in sea eagles which are then fed fish scraps to the business of specially designed hides to get the iconic Osprey snatching the fish from the water shot. All the photographer has to do is pay up then stand in the designated position and press the shutter. What makes the business of wild life photography even more ludicrous is the competition rules that forbid any tampering of the digital image yet they allow the unrestricted tampering with the natural behaviour of the wild subject. Wildlife photography at this moment in time is a total disgrace and needs to get its house in order.
As for this photographer baiting a fox! Fairly typical behaviour of that sort of photographer where it’s the shot at any cost.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

"Wildlife photography at this moment in time is a total disgrace and needs to get its house in order."
Here, here!

Tom Reichner's picture

Setting things up to get better photos can be a lot of very hard and patient work. Just because a wildlife photographer sets things up to work in his/her favor does not mean that they are "taking the easy way out". Quite the opposite, in fact.

It is rather easy for me to go driving or hiking out into wildlife habitat and hope that I just happen to find a critter that is in a good spot, where photos would be aesthetically pleasing. And then also hope that it allows me to get close enough to get quality images. That is easy and takes very little effort and zero commitment on my end.

Conversely, doing all of the work to create a set-up takes weeks of consistent effort. It means several days (maybe months) of scouting. It means carrying blind-building materials long distances through rough terrain. It means getting up at 3 or 4 AM in order to hike all the way in to the blind before dawn. It means hours of waiting in the blind for the target species to come along. It means doing all of those things over and over again for days and days and days.

I will be working a set-up later this week, and hopefully into the weekend. It got very cold last week, and our rivers froze up quite nicely. Now a warm spell is approaching, and the river ice will start to thaw, and break up. At one point there will be rivers that are mostly frozen, but with smallish "holes" in the ice, with open water. The local ducks will congregate in these small areas of open water.

It will be my objective to locate the open holes and to set blinds up as close as possible. I will then get into the blinds very early in the morning when it is still dark, so that the ducks do not see me approach. I will lay on the ice for hours and hours, all the while waiting and hoping for a duck to present a photo-worthy opportunity ..... an opportunity such as climbing up on the ice to preen, or launching itself into flight (hopefully heading straight at me for a dramatic in-flight closeup).

So I will have everything all set up with blinds in the best places. And I will lay on my belly on the ice for hours and hours each day until the ice is all gone. That is what a lot of set-up wildlife photography is like - a ton of hard work and paying dues, with no guarantee of getting the shots one wants. Don't be so quick to knock it.

PS - I'm attaching a photo of one of the places where I will be building a blind tomorrow. Getting all of the blind-building materials all the way across the sage flats, down the river bank, and set up on the ice, will be quite an endeavor, and require a couple miles of walking while carrying lots of heavy, awkward stuff. And then painstaking attention to detail to ensure that the blind blends in with the vegetation on the bank. Then I'll have to carry my heavy lenses, cameras, and tripod down there in the dark the next morning .... ugh! But that's just what it takes to create set-ups so that we can get high quality wildlife photos.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I'm looking forward to seeing your images!

There are a lot of ethical wildlife photographers - I'd like to count myself in that bunch. I do my best to avoid disturbing the wildlife - If i can't avoid it, I'll more often than not pass on the opportunity completely.

I have no problem with hides.

I do worry that there are so many photographers that create images by luring or baiting that people want to duplicate. I'm also concerned, without solution, that too many people looking for the same wildlife photographs and that that will result in habituated animals, even if by accident.

Sargent Schutt's picture

You can put all the effort into it you want, that's fine. Until you bait wild animals or participate in their training to habituation and baiting. That's the line.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

This seems to be a sound line to draw!

John Sammonds's picture

Have a look at these images and then condemn all the photographers in them. https://www.boredpanda.com/cameras-animals-helping-photographers/?utm_so....

Sargent Schutt's picture

Many of those animals in your link are in captivity. Anyone baiting wild animals in National Parks (whether giving rewards or feigning rewards) or contributing to their habituation to humans is a danger to humans and the animals alike. I live where Yarrow was caught, and his actions are a big problem here. National Parks are not zoos, and the animals need to remain wild and distrusting of humans for the safety of both, as well as for the continued success of what wild lands we have left.

A fed animal is a dead animal, with the now-dead fox in Yarrow's photos to wit.

David Reece's picture

Sick and tired of this whole cancel culture! From the "compelling" photo she took, I think it is a giant stretch for me to think David is dropping food tidbits on top of his fellow photographer's head. It is pretty obvious that he is making some sort of hand gesture. If he was making a tossing or throwing motion then I might be compelled to bite. The little instagram wanna-be should be ashamed for making broad statements that could be detrimental to another person's livelihood. I hope he finds a way to silence her and maybe even get an apology.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

There is the photo and then there is her story. They go hand in hand. She is entitled to ask for a Park review and to even ask for a ban.
Yarrow is entitled to defend himself.
Asking for a band helps to level the playing field a bit.
I’m still not for cancel culture for something like this.

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