I’d planned to write every day I was in Minnesota, but I am too A.D.D., I guess, to settle down and write about my day….probably why I’m not much of a journal writer. I was also a little bit conflicted about what I was doing……going to Minnesota on a Wildlife Photography seminar…..at a captive wildlife facility. I haven’t photographed captives before, unless you count photographing the animals that appeared in a feature film my sled dog team was in. This was a new experience for me. I needed to ruminate on the experience before blogging about it.
As it happens, though, I am gathering shots for a photographic art showing, and I wanted well-lit photos that were art quality. I’ve been able to accomplish that with some of the wildlife I photograph, but I wanted more variety. I also sell image rights to a wildlife artist who uses my shots as research for his oil paintings, and I needed quality images. Then, there is the fox book I’ve been working on…..and the opportunity to photograph both gray fox and arctic fox as examples of these species.
I was a bit unsure of what I’d find at this facility, but I can report that it was wonderful. Having trained numerous sled dogs, and having run a fairly large kennel, I knew something about what I was seeing. It was encouraging. The photography type is controversial, and certainly not my first choice, but it was still a great experience.
That said, I think the animal/human bond exhibited by the head trainer and his animals was of awesome quality. This is a family business, and the animals are well cared for. I loved watching the owner’s daughter handling many of the animals. She really has a knack with them, and she truly communicates with them. Since the wildlife in my neighborhood are around people a lot, I know they can live side-by-side with us, if only we understand, appreciate, and allow them to do so. Yes, wild animals do belong in the wild to come and go as they need. However, I have never felt zoos to be unethical. I feel similarly about facilities like this one, when well run. There are all kinds of animal rights-type articles on the internet decrying wildlife farms, but an article I found, written by Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III (whom I had the honor of meeting many years ago) guru of wildlife photography, was the one that struck a chord with me and my “see-all- sides-of-an-issue” mentality. If interested, find it at: http://www.vividlight.com/articles/1805.htm
The raccoon babies were really fun. The first day we were there, the heavens poured (we saw very little sun these four days), but this day was the worst. We spent our time getting to know the animals, and we got to feed some of the babies by bottle. I really enjoyed feeding the ‘coons. They were noisy when hungry, ate with vigor, and then settled right down to be snuggled. Except for the one I had that decided to let go all over me! Pee and poop, both! We all laughed, but I got a free laundering service right there in the beautiful log house that is headquarters and family home. The Midnight Marauders owed me a good photo, and I believe I might have been only one of two of our group to get all three little faces looking at the camera.
The animals we photographed all live in the North Woods of Minnesota, as well as in the Rocky Mountain West. The bright green deciduous vegetation & different geology were the only things that differed much from the habitats I am used to. (By the way, I have families of raccoons who visit my deck every night in summer, looking for bird feeders I may have forgotten to bring in). I rarely see them in the day time, though, so having light to work with was another bonus.
A word about photographing the wildlife: at least at this facility, the animals are brought in and encouraged with treats to stay in a photographic area. The areas are huge, though, and while the animals “sort of” came in when called, a lot of the photographic opportunities were up to us, though we stayed together and didn’t roam around on our own. Many of the animals were very quick, and the light low, so photography was fairly challenging, though definitely more successful than many chance encounter sessions I’ve had in the wild.
I’d planned a trip to the Vince Shute Black Bear Sanctuary and to the International Wolf Center, both near Ely, MN, while on this trip, but a series of circumstances prevented my getting that far north. Getting a chance to photograph both species at the facility helped me get over the disappointment of missing the Centers……that will be for my next trip north.
It’s not easy work, this Wildlife Farming. The trainers set their clocks for every three hours for feedings of the young ones, 24/7. The roads department calls all hours of the day or night when there is road-killed deer, and the trainers drop what they are doing to bring in fresh meat for their predators. Government regulations must be met. It’s not a snap living, but this family is dedicated and have run the wildlife farm for going on three generations.
I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and some of my photos in the coming days!