Plains Bison | Why Do We Photograph Wild Animals?

by on July 4, 2017

I am always amazed whilst watching Plains bison. Like any wild or domestic animal, they can show a large range of emotions – at least the emotions we think them to have. I tread lightly here because I do not like anthropomorphizing wild animals, though it’s somewhat easy to do at times and something I am guilty of at times, such as with this post. When I look at this bison bull, I immediately think he looks sad. We know how to read their warnings by paying attention to their tail, but as far as I know – there is nothing visual that indicates if a wild animal is sad. Looking at this image left me wondering – why do we photograph wild animals if not to capture their emotion? Bear with me as I feel a ramble coming on …

Is it due to conservation efforts? Passion? Strong interest? To challenge ourselves? Educate ourselves and hopefully others? Making art? Or just something to do? The list is endless …


Plains bison bull (bison bison bison) roaming near the road during an early summer morning at Elk Island National Park, Alberta wildlife portrait.


Plains bison were recently reclassified in Alberta in 2015 as being extirpated/extinct, with their cousin, the Wood bison, still being listed as at risk. During some of the down time I’ve had due to injuries, I’ve been trying to read more about wild species and conservation efforts, especially here in Alberta. I always wonder where our wild species, such as the bison family, will be in 5 years. Will they still be around then? In 10 years?

There has been discussion about the possibility of hunting at Elk Island National Park, the bison conservation hub of the world.

The goal is to manage the overpopulation of ungulates and essentially attempt to balance the ecosystem, which is no easy task. The population concerns are largely due to the fact there are no natural predators residing at the park full-time, except for coyotes and a few occasional visits from wandering bears, cougars or wolves. There is also a nearby threat of chronic wasting disease, so the reasons for considering hunting and other solutions are piling up. This has resulted in many folks taking a side or being split on the possibility me included, and I feel this is another reason to keep making images of our wild species.

A beautiful animal you see today may not be there tomorrow for many reasons such as disease, natural death, poaching, extinction, and now, possibly even from hunting.

I guess to answer my own question, all of the above is perhaps why I point my camera at wildlife when I can – to document, learn, appreciate, grow and if I’m lucky, make a difference.

So, is the bison bull sad? I still don’t have the answer, but I do think his fur looks pretty damn cool and he was a pleasure to photograph regardless. That is enough to keep picking up my camera for as long as I can, even though I have to put it down now and then.


See you in the field!


Photographer. Podcaster on hiatus. Edmonton Oilers lovah. Cinematic Star Wars fan. Fond of wildlife conservation, animal rescue orgs, and all things Johnny Cash. Gen X. 

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