Is A Photo Worth Their Lives?

Yeah, ok, we’ve all done stupid things when our cameras are involved. But even when pushing the limits of personal safety, good photographers NEVER endanger the safety of their subjects. That’s exactly what happened in Cades Cove recently though when a Maryland woman came face to face with a mother black bear and her cubs.

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sanctuary for black bears. Visitors rarely have to look long to see one of the 1,500 deceptively sweet looking creatures that call the park home. Unfortunately, far too many visitors do not respect personal space of these animals and that endangers the person AND the bear.

Country Magazine recently published a reader submitted story of how she got several “amazing” photos of a mother black bear and her cubs. The writer readily admits to continuing to advance on the bears (in direction violation of park rules which are enforceable by fines up to $5,000 and jail time) even after other visitors told her to stop and the mother bear displayed threatening behavior.

Bad News for Bears, Cached Story Screenshot from Country Magazine

Bad News for Bears, Cached Story from Country Magazine

Without going on a rant about what Country Magazine and the writer of the story consider “amazing photos,” the problem is that she willfully approached and disturbed the bears causing stress and a change in behavior. Scaring a bear might be a good thing if you need to get rid of one but in an area where they must coexist in very close proximity with thousands of people a day can lead to heartbreaking results. Bears who become aggressive towards humans must be euthanized in many cases. Is your photo worth their lives?

Quotes from the story include such gems as:
“As a few of us inched closer, an older couple kept banging on their windshield and hollering at us to stay back. But I was so intent on getting those pictures that I didn’t heed the warning. When the couple set off their car alarm, the terrified mama shoved her cub in the direction of the nearest tree. And that’s when I sprang into action.” and “The next thing I knew, the bears charged up a tree. Of course, I couldn’t resist advancing until I could capture that amazing family again.”

While the writer ends by saying she should have stayed back it feels much like an afterthought of “oh I shouldn’t sound so happy about what I did” and Country Magazine’s touting of the “amazing photos” undercut their admonition to “don’t try this at home.”

Wildlife lovers descended en-mass on the story (going much too far in many comments) and Country Magazine has since retracted the article (which you can still read through the magic of Google cache – just click on the screenshot with the bear photo). Still the question remains, will this mother bear later react violently towards other park visitors and have to be euthanized because of this experience? Unfortunately, we won’t know unless someone is seriously hurt later. Don’t risk your life, the lives of the bears AND the lives of other park visitors!

Story Retraction from Country Magazine

Story Retraction from Country Magazine

Black bear information and regulations from Great Smoky Mountains National Park


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