(Resolution) Famous photographer David Yarrow / exploiting animals
By Jamie Joseph | Saving the Wild
David Yarrow is arguably the most scorned person in conservation photography, for he embodies everything that is not conservation. From using wolves, bears and tigers that are enslaved to game farms with a track record for abuse; to baiting and chasing animals in the wild, it seems there is nothing he won’t do to get the shot.
By wrapping up his image in philanthropy campaigns with celebrity charities, David Yarrow himself has become a rich and famous man through the exploitation of animals.
What is worse is that he took advantage of Prince William, the Royal Patron of Tusk – Yarrow is on the Advisory Board – and got him to write the foreword to his 2016 book ‘Wild Encounters’. Not even the lion on the cover is truly wild. She was hand raised and her name is Meg. There is absolutely no way the Duke of Cambridge would have held such a close association with Yarrow had he known what he is truly capable of. Yarrow’s most recent stunt in Kimana/Amboseli in Kenya, that endangered the life of a foreign model in her underwear and one of the world’s last great tuskers, has shown his undeniable true colours.
I am currently based in Kenya because most of Saving the Wild’s charitable budget is spent on preserving the Kimana wildlife corridor, and I am producing a project that advocates for the protection of the Kimana tuskers, Tolstoy & Craig. I soon learned from people working on the ground right across the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro eco-system that whilst David Yarrow has become a master at climbing the social ladder through his donations to charities with famous people at the helm – admittedly a very effective sales and marketing strategy – but when it comes to him paying back basic costs to the charities on the ground, such as fuel and use of planes to find the tuskers, it takes him months and years to pay back just a few thousand dollars. A gross disrespect to the people on the ground protecting the tuskers, because it’s not like he doesn’t have the money to pay his bills considering Yarrow sells these tusker images in editions of 12 for between $50 000 and $100 000 each.
On September 29th Yarrow published a photograph of tusker Craig with a fabled sales pitch documenting his time with this gentle giant who resides in the Kimana wildlife corridor. What Yarrow didn’t realise is I was also in Kimana in September – for the whole month – and I am still here. I spent two straight weeks with Craig, and I never saw Yarrow out in the field, not even once.
Summing up his pitch Yarrow wrote on social media: “Craig, the world’s most celebrated big tusker, trusts me and I, in turn, trust him… I see this image as the end validation of an investment of time.”
Says Charlie Hamilton James, National Geographic Magazine photographer specialising in issues concerning conservation, “Any photographer covering issues wildlife and conservation who puts their ego and commercial interest in front of those of their subject needs to seriously consider their motives. I have a word for these people, ‘ego-warriors’ – the term encapsulates not just the way these people approach their subjects but also how they cast and caption their work. Casting oneself as a hero in order to obtain an image, both through physical endeavour and through a ‘special relationship’ with animals, is purely a device to present their ‘spiritual depth’ to an audience. It is a false narrative and one reserved for the narcissist. These people often wrap themselves in charity work, in order to cast off criticism and present themselves as altruistic.”
I did hear Yarrow was around, and he certainly photographed Craig at some point – but neither me nor Yarrow ever “earned” Craig’s trust. This elephant is famous because he is the last of only around 25 tuskers left on earth, and one of only a handful whose ivory sweeps the ground. And this means a lot of people want to take his photograph, and in recent years he has become somewhat habituated to people in vehicles, so much so that from day one of me and my team finding him, he was walking up to the vehicle and within ten metres of us. This approach happened almost every day for two weeks. Craig is a calm and curious elephant, but he still got our hearts racing every time he approached us, and we kept absolutely still, for two reasons:
- If a noise or sudden movement spooks a wild elephant, they can become dangerous, which is why we were always in the vehicle and not on foot – bringing down the element of risk considerably.
- His askari (the younger bulls) are not relaxed like he is, and they are always hovering, alert and not friendly.
I didn’t call Yarrow out on his fabled sales pitch of his new image of Craig, but then he posted this on social media on October 9th (the red text is what I added in the re-post to Saving the Wild Instagram and Facebook.
“I took Lorena (the model) to within 15 feet from Craig. I then fell back to get the necessary distance between us for the composition to work.”
And there she was, a half naked model standing with her back to three wild elephants, and in extremely close and dangerous proximity. Had any of those elephants attacked her, which was probable, they would have been shot dead on sight.
And so I took to social media and told Yarrow if he didn’t take down the image things would get ugly. What message is he trying to put out to the world? That it’s okay for tourists to get out of their vehicle and parade fifteen feet in front of dangerous, wild animals? Of all the selfish things he has done, this has got to be the worst, because the consequences stretch the furtherest.
And Yarrow might have made over a million dollars for an edition of 12 for that print, but saving the tusker gene pool is priceless.
David Lloyd, critically acclaimed wildlife photographer, had this to say in response to Saving the Wild calling for the image to be taken down: “This picture serves nothing less than to undo the hard work conservationists have undertaken to educate what’s wrong in animal/human cohabitation.”
Three hours later, and with an avalanche of outrage on both Saving the Wild’s social media pages and his own, and the image was removed. In Yarrow’s deleted post he had written that he wanted to take a picture that would stand the test of time.
Well, the image may have been deleted, but it certainly won’t be forgotten.
Clearly, at this point, Saving the Wild’s stand against Yarrow had not reached Maddox Gallery who represents him. That same day I had made an enquiry via the online form on their website. All I gave was my name and email, with a plan to follow up with a call to discuss them representing work that is clearly unethical. And then I received an email from Fi Lovett, the European Director of Maddox Gallery in London who said she had looked me up on the internet and exclaimed what incredible work I do and she was full of admiration. She then went on to offer me a VIP discount to any of Yarrow’s artwork, including this one pictured here for £54,000, titled The Usual Suspects, edition of 12. The beautiful, but misinformed lady on the left is the one and only Cindy Crawford.
First of all, on what planet can a director of a conservation charity afford these sort of prices? The most luxurious item I bought this year was my thermostat bottle that keeps water cold for six hours. But secondly, and most disturbing, why would a gallery director ever think a conservationist would buy an image that perpetuates the slavery of animals?
The more people buy these kind of images, the more they will get made, and then more animals will get hurt.
The wolf in that photograph with Cindy Crawford is a victim of Animals of Montana, a horrific game farm who cage their animals and bait them with food to perform, and then beat them if they do not perform. In this case, the bait was chicken hanging off the neck of Yarrow so that he could get the shot of the wolf looking down the barrel of his lens.
Says Melissa Groo, Associate Fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers, “David Yarrow is infamous among wildlife photographers for his disrespect of wildlife and what’s best for them; both wild and captive animals. He has been a long time supporter of the game farm Animals of Montana, and the owner Troy Hyde. Yarrow also openly talks about how he chases giraffes to get shots of them running. Animals are nothing more than props to him. He cares nothing for their welfare. It’s upsetting to so many, and he needs to be aware that it matters, and we are watching.”
“We love working with David,” said Troy Hyde to the Montana Standard when Yarrow was back in Montana at the start of this year, and up to his usual tricks. “This is the eighth year we’ve worked with him, in Montana and a lot of other places — Chicago, Gary, Indiana, and Los Angeles, right down on Sunset Boulevard.”
Even the homepage of the Animals of Montana website is a distinctly Yarrow image of a wolf walking down the bar counter. And a Yarrow/Hyde team photograph under the ‘OUR ANIMALS / OUR CREW’ headline. It is likely we will never know how many of Yarrow’s photographs are actually taken in the WILD.
Ansel Adams recipient Thomas D. Mangelsen, who lives in Wyoming, has been outspoken against these game farms for many years, calling for all of them to be shut down countrywide.
Says Mangelsen, speaking of game farms and Animals of Montana, “Tommy the mountain lion was beaten when he wasn’t performing. On another occasion that I know of he was dragged through the forest until he crashed to the ground. Game farm abusive reports include withholding food before a photo session, to the use of piano wire around the neck of a wolf, which is jerked whenever the wolf looks bored and inattentive. Yarrow using animals that are genetically wild, but kept in cages all their lives for the benefit of profit is nothing more than animal slavery. It is cruel, inhumane and barbaric.”
Yarrow explains his method of “art” in his own Yarrow Podcast, March 2019, Montana Baby: “Give me a year and those images with the wolf and Cindy will be selling for the highest prices ever for a Cindy Crawford photograph because it has a philanthropy angle.”
Effective marketer, I’ll give him that.
But I seriously doubt Cindy Crawford knew the provider of animals for this shoot has a long history of mistreating animals, and she deserves to know. Yarrow would have known. It’s his responsibility to do his due diligence, and he knows how to do a web search. After all, he was previously a hedge fund manager before turning to the art of making money from the wild.
And it’s not philanthropy when animals have to suffer for the charity to benefit.
According to KRTV in an article published on February 05, 2020, a contested case hearing was held against Animals of Montana, and the hearing officer concluded that Fish, Wildlife & Parks had proved twenty-two of the twenty-five alleged violations, including transporting animals outside the facility to a photoshoot for which there was no FWP authorization (Yarrow shoot), using a weed-whacker to scare a tiger into moving (Yarrow shoot), multiple insufficiently secure cages, unroofed cages, multiple failures to padlock cages, insufficient availability of fresh water, and multiple cases of cramped or unsanitary cages.
As for Yarrow’s affiliations with Tusk, WildAid, WildArk and Earth Alliance, I seriously doubt these conservation organisations would approve of Yarrow’s exploitation of animals. But how is it that Yarrow has got away with it for so long?
Yarrow cannot undo what he has already done, and no one can ever say anymore that they didn’t know.
One day later, on October 13th, Jamie Joseph and David Yarrow released a joint statement.
“On October 12th I published an article that did not paint David Yarrow in a good light. As an activist who is used to fighting organised crime enabling rhino poaching, I was maybe a little tough on the photographer, and he certainly saw my claws come out with a vengeance. What sparked it off was my tender love for a tusker known as Craig. I felt David had taken it too far when he photographed a model on foot and in close proximity to this elephant and two younger bulls.”
-Jamie Joseph, Saving the Wild
Says David, “I unintentionally put the message out there that it’s always okay to get out of the vehicle and be in such close range with a wild animal, and it’s not – that is when things can go dangerously wrong. I have a responsibility to convey that these were exceptional circumstances, with rangers present, and my narrative should have made that explicitly clear.”
Says Jamie, “In my article I went on to challenge David’s staged work with trained animals, specifically that of Animals of Montana, an establishment that had been on my radar for a few years due to reports of abuse. After discussions with David, it was clear that he was oblivious to any kind of abusive, as it never happened in his presence.”
“I would like to thank Jamie Joseph for pointing out that in our staged filmmaking we need to be more thorough in our due diligence of our counter parties,” continues David. “Specifically, If animal handlers are under investigation we should not be working with them. Moving forward, we will always have a member of Movie Animals Protected on sight on any of our sets. There should be no grey areas when it come to ethics when working with wild or habituated animals. Jamie and I are both passionate conservationists and we are in discussions now as to how we can work together to better secure the safety and wellbeing of animals in this regard.”
“This could have got messy, but David has really stepped up,” concludes Jamie. “With David’s global audience he will now endeavour to use his platform to raise a higher standard for everyone working in the wildlife casting industry. It is our responsibility as conservationists to do everything we can to minimise our disturbance on wild animals and promote their well being.”
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“If I have to choose between squabbling, and saving a pack of wolves, I choose the #wolves every time.” -Jamie Joseph @saving_the_wild The response to the joint statement myself and @davidyarrow put out yesterday was mostly positive within the Saving the Wild community. A few people however commented that I had “folded” and so I would like to take this opportunity to explain how I feel about #activism. Firstly, I don’t do smear campaigns. I say what needs to be said and I do what needs to be done. Yesterday, Animals of Montana (owner Troy Hyde) took a huge financial hit, a horrific establishment in the wildlife film industry. Photographers like @thomasdmangelsen and @melissagroo have been fighting these game (slave) farms for years, and its incredibly hard to shut them down. Because the laws are so weak, we have to treat them like criminals and financially cripple them so that it’s not worth their time being in business. With the help of Tom and Melissa’s insights, and their quotes in the story I published, we were able to create a groundswell of outrage. But now that outrage needs to be effectively channeled. Animals of Montana are heading to the Supreme Court soon, and, we hope, their license will be taken away for good this time. But we also need to consider the welfare of the animals who will become homeless. Animals like wolves and bears and tigers need to be wild and free. And if we cannot give them that, the least we can do is give them space. I’ve spent many weeks in Grand Teton / Yellowstone with Tom Mangelsen and the bears, and magical glimpses of the wolves. I love wolves the way I love elephants; they have deep emotional bonds between family members. Family is everything. There are some big battles ahead of us, and I really hope the Saving the Wild community will have my back. I can’t speak for David Yarrow. We spent hours on the phone yesterday talking things through. I’ve sent him lots of documentation on Animals of Montana, and other unethical film industry game farms, and it’s up to him now to do the work. In the words of Elvis Presley, “A little less conversation a little more action.” #savethewolves Photo: @thomasdmangelsen