To feed or not to feed….

Now, how does one get to find those bears and Wolverines in Europe? In Siberia, Canada and Alaska they seem to be a lot more used to humans and especially during the salmon migration they are quite easy to find. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in Europe. Here the bears are a lot shyer and the chance of finding one in the wild are very slim. The best way of getting close enough for pictures is sitting in a hide with bait in front like I did in Finland.

But this raises the question whether it’s a good thing to feed wild animals for pictures. In my opinion, there are two ways of feeding wild animals for photos. In the Netherlands, we’ve had some problems with Red Foxes being fed by both photographers and other nature enthusiasts. They were fed with bread, french fries and other snacks. First of all, this isn’t healthy for the foxes, and secondly, they really changed their behaviour. At the moment, if you get a plastic bag and make some noise with it, particular foxes will come running towards you, expecting food. This abnormal behaviour has several drawbacks. Of course, Foxes are very opportunistic animals, that will seize every opportunity to get food (they are also seen plundering garbage bags in cities in individual countries). But in this case, they could become a threat to humans. They could get aggressive to humans if they don’t get food and start to bite. This will result in the shooting of these animals. This already happened when a fox was so tame, it became a thread for traffic. Needless to say, this should be avoided. And besides, as a photographer, I like to photograph animals showing their natural behaviour, something that can’t be said for these foxes.

Brown Bear

Another way of feeding animals is just to lure them, but not to give them so much food they will get dependent on it, or that they associate the food with humans. An example of this is the Red Deer on the Hoge Veluwe. These ordinarily shy animals are being fed a little, but that is enough to attract them to a specific place. This makes them the most viewed and most photographed Red Deer of the Netherlands. Because of their predictability, many people come here to see the animals (sometimes even over a hundred people). I think this is a perfect way to show nature to the public. Usually, most of these people won’t see any deer (and especially not during the rut). And as long as the feeding is done responsibly I don’t see any problem.

In my opinion, the bears being fed can be placed in the last category. It is done with natural food for the bears (fish), in a way that the bears don’t associate the food with humans (they still run away if someone makes noise) and they aren’t being fed enough, so they still have to keep their own behaviour for finding their remaining food. This way photography and nature can go hand in hand, and people get to enjoy animals which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


  • Nice post Arjen. Yet, I was wondering: what if food is placed there every day, where’s the limit? Since nature photography is growing in popularity, more people will tend to ‘lure’, helped by internet and twitcher-networks.
    Individuals will tend to state that a (one!) little bait won’t hurt, but can they oversee the total of all baits? I agree to your basic division, but I don’t think we are able to restrain ourselves.
    A fox in winter, who looks exhausted and starving is probably on its way to kick the bucket, to meet its maker, to ‘expire’. Or if it is strong enough, it will stay a while. If every “nature friend” thinks this fox -one of the foxes you mentioned- is to be helped with sweet cookies, than we’re also c o l l e c t i v e l y responsible for the fact that this backpacksniffing vagabond is now losing teeth. And that the young ones will definitely learn the sound of plastic . So awereness, sure, but not to any price.

    I cherish my encounter with a wild young fox (which captured moment gives me a free ticket to South Africa next week; I won a contest! ). If it were a lured fox, I’d be ashamed.
    I once asked a very proud newby photographer who had helped himself with dog-food: “what will you see when you look at your perfect picture of that fox, in say twenty years?” He looked at me, disturbed, and replied like I posed him a rethorical question…. I asked: “what story do you tell when you see that picture?” After af while a woman next to him liberated him, whispering: “dog food”. So as much as it can be our duty to show others what beauty is out there, we are also responsible to keep it as it is. My two pennies worth.


    • I agree, there is of course a limit. For me that limit is reached if the animal looses its natural behaviour, becomes dependent on the food or if an unhealthy situation arises. In this case neither has happened (as far as I could see). And yes, Eco-tourism like this has become more popular the past years, but I don’t think there is really an increase in organisations offering trips like this. So for the moment I don’t think there is a danger of the bears getting too much attention/food. But this is indeed something to keep an eye on.
      For now I really think this is a good way of showing people the beauties of nature without disturbing it.

      Oh, and congrats with the prize and have fun in Africa.


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