I don’t always photograph wildlife… but when I do, it’s by sheer luck.

I think basically every time I post a wildlife picture I feel the need to also declare that I’m not a wildlife photographer.  I do enjoy photographing them (to an extent) and watching them, but following animals around all over the park just isn’t my thing.  Increasingly, it also gives me a lot of anxiety. Not so much deer or turkeys, but definitely bears.  Why?  Because I just *know* someone is going to show up and do something stupid.  Bears are like tourist magnets… and I get it, it’s a beautiful animal and you’d like a picture of it to show your friends (clearly I get it, as exhibit A is just above).  So people reach in their pocket and pull out their phone, realize the bear looks tiny because the zoom sucks and the focal length of a smartphone camera is ultrawide… so they walk closer and closer, hoping to fill the frame like the image above.  Except, to do that, you have to be WAAAY too close to the animal.  And it’s not just smartphone-toting tourists.  I’ve seen plenty of bears in Cades Cove almost completely surrounded by photographers with big lenses.  One inches closer, so the rest do.  Rather than slapping visitors with fines for getting too close to the animals – like the signs say they’ll do – the park service has taken to hazing the bears to get them away from very public places.  Let that sink in for just a second.  Since people, who are visitors, won’t do the right thing and leave the animals alone, the park service feels compelled to scare off the animals that live there.

My response?  I don’t stop or I leave so as to not draw further attention to the animal.

On this particular morning I was actually getting my stuff out of my car to go shoot pictures of a stream when I happened to look over and there was a bear foraging around in the leaves for food.  I also just happened to have a long lens in the car, so I thought… eh, what the heck.  I photographed the bear for just a couple minutes, constantly looking around, both at my surroundings for other bears, and for the inevitable “other people”.  Fortunately the bear was below the road and out of view of passing cars, but when traffic slowed down, others spotted it as well and started getting out of their cars (which were in the middle of the road still).  It was then that I realized I wasn’t having a good time at all, because I was so worried about what other people were going to do, so I grabbed my stuff and set out to do what I’d come there for… photograph stream scenes.  As I was finishing getting ready back at my car, park employees showed up and ran the bear off (evidently it had been in the same spot for the previous several mornings).  It then occurred to me that, even though I had followed all the rules, I was still contributing to the scenario that is causing the bears to be harassed.  So, rather than talking about what beautiful animals bears are, or how exactly I got this shot, I’ve chosen to take this time to try to educate people instead.  1) You can’t safely get pictures like this with a cellphone, you just can’t.  If you don’t have a long lens, put your phone down and just enjoy the animal from a safe distance quietly.  2) If you do have a long lens, realize that you too can be part of the problem.  If a crowd forms, leave.  Your picture isn’t worth the harm that may come to the bear because people won’t do the right thing and stay a safe distance back.

Let’s all work to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.  

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Cades Cove
Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Townsend, TN 37882, USA

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