A captive view


This little darling is Rosie, a grizzly bear cub held at a private facility in Montana. She had just started training, but would let her handler know when she wasn’t happy, as this photo demonstrates. Check out the size of Rosie’s paws – by the time she is an adult, she will be one big bear.


In the course of a week, I watched that same young animal trainer Rosie chewed on get attacked by an irritated juvenile bobcat, and an adult Siberian tiger. When the tiger took him down, I dived behind the other humans there, behind two strands of electric wire. Never got any photos, but I made darn sure that I would be the last to be eaten (the tiger’s owner had several other protection measures in place, but I wasn’t taking any chances). The trainer wasn’t injured, but it demonstrated vividly just how dangerous it can be to work with wild animals. I also once watched a wildlife biologist get thumped by a wild elk calf (and got photos of that incident).

I met Rosie a couple of years ago when I did the rounds of some captive wildlife facilities in Idaho and Montana. I wanted see what it’s like to photograph animals at places that train animals for movies, documentaries and other media. What I learned is that while I can see the attraction, it’s really not my kind of scene. My wildlife shots on the ranch may not be technically perfect, but the interactions are what make the experience for me.

I did learn some fun insider information in my captive facility tour, like a “documentary” I watched on television included beautiful arctic wolves filmed as they ran across the frozen tundra, but in reality they were running across a frozen Idaho potato field. Two of the facilities I visited had what I considered to be dangerous adult male mountain lions (actually can’t imagine defining an adult captive tom as anything but dangerous). I’ll post a few of the captive shots I like the best in the coming days, and I’ll let you know that they are indeed captive animals.

While I don’t see much more of this kind of photography in my future, I can’t rule it out completely. The wild, elusive critter that is the subject of my dreams as a photography conquest is probably a common sight for many of you: a skunk. I would simply love the opportunity to follow around a mama skunk with her babies – an unfulfilled dream for the woman who lives surrounded by guardian dogs. I’ll keep dreaming the dream and it may happen someday, and I’ll probably smell the worse for it.