A Few Words About Game Farms

At the end of my book is a chapter called, “A Few Words on Ethical Wildlife Photography,” wherein I examine some of the problems that arise when over-eager photographers forget that their animal subjects have needs and interests of their own that don’t always include posing for the camera. With surprising frequency, irresponsible photo-getters are gored, trampled or charged by free-roaming animals annoyed enough to feel they must defend themselves.

But no amount of disturbance could ever equal the level of abuse and exploitation suffered by an animal stuck in a zoo or game farm. Too often, the “wild” animals seen in books or magazines are actually imprisoned specimens sentenced to life in a barren pen or cage. The only time some of these pitiable creatures see the light of day is when they’re paraded out and made to pose for a client who wants to shoot them in front of a convincingly picturesque background. Trainers at game farms have graduated from the traditional whip and chair to more technological tools, such as the electric cattle prod, to browbeat their wildlife “models” into compliance.

On the surface, many game farms seem relatively innocuous, charging only for public viewing or private photographic sessions with crowd-pleasing kittens, cubs or fawns bred specifically for that purpose. But as they get older and less photogenic, these animals are auctioned off as “surplus” to the highest bidders—a common practice of zoos as well. It’s likely the same individuals appearing as cute babies on calendars or greeting cards will end up, a few years later, getting shot—for real this time—at another fenced-in compound that allows “canned hunting.” These doubly loathsome compounds profit directly from the killing of confined, frequently exotic, species behind the high fences of their enclosures.

As a general rule, photographers and photo editors don’t differentiate between animals in the wild or in captivity when selling and publishing images. Photos taken at game farms set a new, unnatural standard for closeness and intimacy that the public expects to see in every future wildlife photograph. Using these shots only supports and encourages those who would profit from making their captives serve as performers for photographers, entertainers for tourists or as sitting ducks for trophy hunters.

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From my book’s copyright page: “No captives were used in the making of this book [or this blog, for that matter]. All free-roaming animals were respectfully photographed in the wild.”

Wildlife Photography Copyright Jim Robertson

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11 thoughts on “A Few Words About Game Farms

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Jim.

    When I used to compete in professional photographer competitions, there were wild animal images that would win and I knew they were from zoos.

    Then, when Photoshop became popular, the bars disappeared, along with the cement, but they were still zoos. Not all of course, some photographers obviously shot in the wild, but really, what kind of photographer, amateur or professional, photographs wild animals in cages?

  2. Im so glad i popped in today to read the blog! I honestly had NO idea that alot of pictures of supposed wild animals are actually animals in the Zoo or Game Farm, it truly disgusts me. Is there any way that these poor animals are NOT exploited? Im just wondering is there anyway to find out before i purchase any animal pics whether or not they are actually wold animals? Also i just want to take a quick second to thank you as well Jim, your blog is so informative im new to animal activism so im still learning, your blog is the BEST, I share it all over thanks fotr all you do Jim!

    • Florence, purchase them from Jim. ;-) As an award-winning, professional photographer for over 25 years (but most of the animals I photograph are companions or wild animals we’ve rescued), I can assure you that Jim’s images are of the highest quality and are all taken in the wild.

      • Thanks for the info Dianne i really appreciate it ; ) I love animals and collect pictures of them ggod pics and it really hurt me and made me angry to think that i could be contributing to any harm or exploitation to/of any animals. Thanks again Dianne ill check it out!

  3. That’s astonishingly horrid! And I thought I was up to date on most of the current animal debacles, but game farms? I never knew there were such places! Have there been many attempts or success in shutting them down?

    • Most people don’t know they exist or don’t understand how many of the photos they see everywhere, including online, are the product of game farm exploitation. Even animals in wild setting, with snow in the foreground or mountains in the background, could have been shot on a game farm property that happens to be in a nice setting with a view. But the animals spend most of their time in small cages when they isn’t a paying customer around to “shoot” them.

      Even when a cougar, for example, is in a wild setting like by the Grand Canyon, they could have been trucked there by a “trainer” who is just off camera with a rifle and a cattle prod and who will put the cat back in a cage after the photo shoot. The only way to know that an image was respectfully photographed and represents a free-roaming animal (not a captive “specimin”) is to research or contact the photographer.

      Since game farms are usually “licensed facilities,” the best we can do for now is expose them and inform people about their existence, then work to ban them…

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