David Yarrow Is Running Afoul of the Ethics of Wildlife Photography, Again

There’s been a bit of an uproar in the wildlife photography community this week. One of the genre’s most popular and successful photographers has been called out for turning wildlife into an accessory. What do you make of all this?

Love or hate his style, David Yarrow is considered by the public to be a legend of wildlife photography. He makes a living doing what most of us dream of. Yarrow has also invested a lot of time and energy into various wildlife-centric charities and NGOs. Within the wildlife photography community however there is a different feeling towards Yarrow. His recent shoot has highlighted this.

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Considering Saving the Wild donates the majority of our budget to the protection of the #KimanaTuskers, Tolstoy & Craig, I feel I have every right to say this… @davidyarrow I don’t care how rich and famous you are, if you do not take down your last post with the half naked foreign model putting tusker Craig’s life in danger, and that of all elephants, this is going to get ugly. Please think very hard about this, and do what is best for the WILD. -Jamie Joseph Director of @saving_the_wild And here is the comment I made yesterday on his instagram page after he boasted: “I took Lorena (the model) to WITHIN 15 FEET FROM CRAIG. I then fell back to get the necessary distance between us for the composition to work.⁣” // Wow. That last post you made of “earning Craig’s trust” was absolute nonsense – and I held my tongue. I was with Craig for two weeks every day in September – I’m still in Kimana – and from day 1 he was incredibly cool and would walk towards the vehicle within ten meters, from day 1. It has nothing to do with you “earning trust”. Yes, nearly a decade ago when Nick Brandt put real time in he earned Craig’s trust, but all of us now are just part of the crowd who crave his presence as the #tusker he has become. But putting a model in front of him – ON FOOT – AND THOSE OTHER BULLS WHO ARE NOT CALM LIKE CRAIG – well that’s just unethical and downright stupid. If something had happened to her someone might have wanted to shoot the elephant, and his death would be on your hands! Wake up man. It can’t all be about the money and the fame. end comment// #DavidYarrow’s people got in touch with me after I made this comment and asked for my email. I have requested a call with Yarrow to figure this one out. And yes, I am aware he baits lions with meat, and wolves with chicken, and all the other unethical behaviour he is known for, but one thing at a time. And right now we need to focus on that photograph being removed so that tourists don’t start jumping out of their vehicle wanting to put their BACK TO A WILD ANIMAL and have their photo taken. #ConservationPhotography @nickbrandtphotography @thomasdmangelsen @davidlloyd @newbig5project #tuskers

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Jamie Joseph, Director of Saving The Wild, has drawn attention to Yarrow’s recent elephant shoot and been very vocal about Yarrow’s history working with unethical characters and organizations in wildlife photography (Animals of Montana.) Of note, Yarrow also has a history of triggering wild animals to get a reaction from them.

David Yarrow is arguably the most scorned person in conservation photography, for he embodies everything that is not conservation. From using wolves, bears and tigers that are enslaved to game farms with a track record for abuse; to baiting and chasing animals in the wild, it seems there is nothing he won’t do to get the shot.

Melissa Groo, an Associate Fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers, succinctly points out that:

David Yarrow is infamous among wildlife photographers for his disrespect of wildlife and what’s best for them; both wild and captive animals. He has been a long time supporter of the game farm Animals of Montana, and the owner Troy Hyde. Yarrow also openly talks about how he chases giraffes to get shots of them running. Animals are nothing more than props to him. He cares nothing for their welfare. It’s upsetting to so many, and he needs to be aware that it matters, and we are watching.

Putting a model this close to elephants is a disaster waiting to happen. Yarrow should know that. Although he has released a joint statement with Saving the Wild apologizing for the elephant shoot and the use of Animals of Montana, he should have known better. You can’t clothe yourself as the champion of wildlife and then operate across the lines of well established ethics. Yarrow has clearly stated in the past that he is an art photographer, not a wildlife photographer, but that doesn’t mean that he can treat his subjects without regard. Art or wildlife, he has an obligation to care for his subjects, particularly if he calls himself a conservationist.

Charlie Hamilton James, a Nat Geo photographer, implies Yarrow is an ego-warrior, a play on the rallying cry of eco-warrior:

Any photographer covering issues wildlife and conservation who puts their ego and commercial interest in front of those of their subject needs to seriously consider their motives. I have a word for these people, ‘ego-warriors’ – the term encapsulates not just the way these people approach their subjects but also how they cast and caption their work.

Joseph talks about her mission to get rid of the problematic and unethical elements of wildlife photography. In terms of putting your money where your mouth is wildlife photographer Alex de Vries, operator of Discover Churchill, takes the position that:  

Deliberately disrupting an animal’s behaviour and endangering its life for the sole purpose of personal gain has no business in this industry.

De Vries vows to turn down clients who can’t agree with this approach on his ground based expeditions to see Churchill’s polar bears. I couldn’t agree more.

Yarrow and Saving the Wild’s joint statement strikes most of the right notes. In respect of the elephant shoot, Yarrow says:

I unintentionally put the message out there that it’s always okay to get out of the vehicle and be in such close range with a wild animal, and it’s not – that is when things can go dangerously wrong. I have a responsibility to convey that these were exceptional circumstances, with rangers present, and my narrative should have made that explicitly clear.

And, in respect of his use of Animals of Montana, Yarrow comments:

I would like to thank Jamie Joseph for pointing out that in our staged filmmaking we need to be more thorough in our due diligence of our counter parties . . . Specifically, If animal handlers are under investigation we should not be working with them. Moving forward, we will always have a member of Movie Animals Protected on sight on any of our sets. There should be no grey areas when it come to ethics when working with wild or habituated animals.

So, what will the models and charities that Yarrow has been working with do? Apologies need to be followed by action, let’s see what Yarrow does now. As Saving the Wild points out, 

. . . it’s not philanthropy when animals have to suffer for the charity to benefit. 

Lead image from author at let us go photo


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