'Wildlife' Photography Often Faked Using Trained Animals

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Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but wildlife photographs aren't always portraits of "wild life." In a probing feature that originally appeared in Audubon, Ted Williams looks at the industry that produces such photos, specifically the practice of using model animals to stand-in for the real thing. Phony wildlife photography, he says, warps our views about what nature is and how healthy the wilds remain.

"You couldn't have gotten those shots in the wild," Triple D co-owner Jay Deist told me, and he was right. In 1972 he, his brother, and his father opened Triple D, but not for photographers. They were "going to save the world" by capturing and breeding vanishing wildlife. It didn't work out. But soon photographers began paying for sessions with the animals. Deist describes the early clientele as "very secretive, because they didn't want anyone to know the source."

Concurrently, these amazing "wildlife photos" started showing up in magazines, calendars, and posters--close-up action shots with every whisker in perfect focus. Similar game farms sprang up around the country, though no one knows how many there are. Images of Triple D's snow leopards are proliferating like Internet pop-ups. In 2008 one even received first place in the viewers' choice "nature" category of National Geographic's international photography contest. Animals like snow leopards are in desperate trouble, but why should people believe this when they see sleek, healthy snow leopards every time they walk into a bookstore or open a "wildlife" calendar?

Read the full story at Utne Reader.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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