A Call for Honesty and Humanity in Wildlife Filmmaking

Chris Palmer has just written an extraordinarily important and deeply disturbing book about the wildlife film industry. In Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker: The Challenges of Staying Honest in an Industry Where Ratings are King, he reveals his own missteps as the producer of some 300-plus hours of films for prime-time TV and IMAX viewers. "I've been as guilty of fabricating wildlife scenes as those I now criticize," he admits as his book begins.

Chris describes how he stooped to the common practice of using captive creatures to simulate scenes from the wild, but his critique of the wildlife film industry goes much deeper than that. "Far too many broadcasters have resorted to creating 'nature porn' -- productions focusing solely on the blood, guts, and sex of the animal kingdom," he writes. He deplores the industry's descent into sensationalist reality shows like Yukon Men, where "all predators, including wolves, wolverines, bears, and lynx are depicted as vicious, nasty, and fully deserving of excruciatingly painful deaths via steel leghold traps and other means."

There have been only two possible cases of fatal wolf attacks on humans in North America over the past century, Chris says, pointing to the vital role these creatures play in culling the weak and the injured among the animal populations they prey upon. Yet in Yukon Men, wolves are ferocious terrorists that have allegedly killed 20 people in the past decade alone. These distortions have severely damaged wolf conservation efforts, feeding the misconception that slaughtering wolves is an unmitigated good.

Chris ends his book with a call upon broadcasters, filmmakers, viewers, educators, and media reviewers to shun sensationalism in wildlife filmmaking. He gives us a bit of hope when describing a few nature filmmakers who depict their subjects honestly and raise the level of public awareness about the vulnerability of wildlife species and their ecosystems.

Yet it's hard to come away from this compelling expose feeling optimistic that the wildlife film industry as a whole will become a persuasive catalyst to public enlightenment. Too much is gained from "wildlife paparazzi" capturing "money shots" of guys blowing away wolves with assault rifles or bludgeoning monitor lizards to death for the thrill of it.