Photographs of Common Kingfishers are high on the bucket-list of many photographers interested in wildlife. There are commercial wildlife hides which specialise in kingfisher photography and can virtually guarantee spectacular photographs. The standards have been set, and they are very high indeed.
Unfortunately, these spectacular photographs come about using a practice many photographers consider to be very dubious, live baiting. In this context, live baiting of Kingfishers is where a container is filled with water then bait such as live minnows, baby trout or suchlike are added. The container is placed close to a river bank or pond frequented by Kingfishers with a few natural perches above. There are variations, eye-level reflection pools for diving shots, aquariums for underwater shots, for example.
I’m often asked about my thoughts on live baiting and it is usually about Kingfishers. Do I agree with it? The short answer is ‘No’, I do not. I thought I’d set out the reasons why in this short blog post.
Before I continue to explain why, I must declare that I have photographed Kingfishers which have been live baited. Many will say this makes me a hypocrite. I reluctantly accept that, but in my defence, I am entitled to change my views as I continue to develop as a wildlife photographer and unfortunately, I cannot go back and right what I now believe to be wrong.
I do not believe it is ethically acceptable to engineer the death of one species in order to enhance the experience or outcomes of photographing another species. I’ve heard of practices where birds such as wood pigeons have been tethered alive to logs to attract Eagles. Is that acceptable? If a wildlife photographer was to disable a mammal such as an Impala or a Gazelle, hindering its natural ability to escape so they could photograph the approach and attack of a predator like a Leopard or Lion, would we find that acceptable?
The answer is, of course, absolutely not. I don’t think many would disagree with this.
If we consider this to be unacceptable, why do many photographers feel it is absolutely acceptable to trap another live animal like a fish to use as bait to photograph Kingfishers? From my own ethical point of view, I cannot see any difference. I cannot see where we can draw the line between which live animals are acceptable to use as photographic cannon fodder and those that are not.
If anybody can see a difference, or where we can draw the line, please do let me know your thoughts.