Kill to shoot?

To what lengths will people go ‘to get that shot?’  Feeling awkward or uncomfortable?  Potential conflict?  Taking a personal risk?  Or killing to get that predator-prey shot?  Photography can be a personal, emotional journey.


Exhausted but exhilarated, I’m stood in front of a full-length open window wearing only grubby underpants and grey socks.  Next to me in this slightly worn Costa Rican hotel room is a similarly attired stranger.  Struggling to see through the early morning gloom, we’re using a mobile phone app to try to recognise the squabbling birds making up the dawn chorus.

Four hours ago we were introduced with a formal handshake.  We’re now locked in a mild obsession to photograph some of the most amazing, diverse wildlife in the world.

I shrug off my initial feelings of awkwardness – this is absolutely normal for two well adjusted blokes – I’m inching out of my comfort zone in pursuit of a parrot obsession.  We conclude that the noisy birds could possibly be, are likely to be, are 99% sure to be, brown hooded parrots.  Or courting frogs.

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Day 5.  Keep moving.  I’m one step ahead of the bizarre cult pursuing me into the Costa Rican jungle.  Their binoculars and scopes see for miles.  Meticulous, in the books strung around their necks they record each tree, change in the weather and species.  I’m sweating with the effort to stay ahead.  The sun rises in 12 minutes, not much time before their trap is sprung and the ritual sacrifice begins.  In the clearing, a large, white, illuminated cloth hangs between two trees – wriggling with life.  The dinner table is set.

Last night a group of us agreed to wake at 4am, gather small plastic pots and head into the jungle.  A mission of mercy – sort-of.  If we can get to the clearing before the cult, we will be able to save many tiny, fluttering lives.  But if we’re spotted there will be shouting and conflict.  A headache is forming in anticipation of this conflict.

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We quickly pick off moths from the table cloth.  Attracted by the light, they are resting until warmed by the sun and have enough energy to escape.  In the golden hour after sunrise, birds and lizards are attracted to this easy meal, which in turn attracts the birders, pencils poised, to record the many bird species in the Cost Rican jungle.  If we can fill our pots with the most unusual and beautiful specimens before the twitchers arrive we will be able to photograph them before letting them live another day.

Conflict avoided, my headache is receding.  I’m snapping away at strategically positioned moths, frogs and lizards whilst grumbling birders trudge by.  “No luck guys?”  A giddy, sneaky excitement.  Naughty school kids again.

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Day 7.  I’m shaking.  Crickey, that was stupid.  Why did I do that?  Deep breath.  Relax.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t touch any of them.

I’m just back from spending a very long morning rummaging through dropped leaves looking for stuff to photograph.  Good grief, how did I possibly end up on the ground staring eye-to-eye with venomous pit vipers and poison dart frogs.

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I’m panicking.  Right, where’s my iPad?  What the bugger have I just done?  I need to consult Dr Google.

The eyelash viper venom is mainly hemotoxic but also neurotoxic, containing procoagulants and hemorrhagins.

What the…

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It affects both the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system, making it highly toxic, and even fatal to humans

Bugger…

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They inject the venom using their 2 extremely long fangs, located on the upper jaw, these remain folded back into their mouths when they’re not in use.

EXTREMELY LONG FANGS!

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Eyelash pit vipers have bitten humans who venture too close.  The bite can cause severe pain, swelling, bruising, bleb formation and very often necrosis, if left untreated it can lead to loss of a limb or even be fatal.

Arrrrrgggghhhhhh, what’s a BLEB?

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This research isn’t helping my panic.  Ok, poison dart frogs.

The green-and-black poison dart frog possesses enough poison to make a human heart stop beating.  However, it only releases its poison if it feels threatened, and wild specimens can be handled provided the human holding it is calm and relaxed.

I’m not feeling calm OR relaxed.  Did I accidentally touch one?  Is that a rash? A scratch?  Is my arm going numb?  A BLEB!

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Ok, calm down.  Breath.  My heart rate is slowing.  A shudder runs through me.  Good grief.  No obvious symptoms of hemotoxic or neurotoxic wotsit (I’m clearly now an expert).  A long breath out.  Wow, but that was soooooooo cool.  A little skip and squeal.  But maybe I won’t do it again.


Final day in the jungle.  I’m conflicted.  I’m really not sure I want to do this.  Is there REALLY anything wrong with wanting to photograph the feeding of a live lizard to the  boa constrictor we found this morning?

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It looks hungry.

… and the lizard is its natural prey.

Come on, I can do this.  I’ve already spent 2 days photographing king vulture on carcasses.

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What’s the difference!  This could be a great shot, maybe THAT shot!

Live baiting by photographers attracts a great deal of controversy.  Whether it’s tethered live mice to attract a swooping owl, fish in a bowl for that ‘natural’ kingfisher dive, or in this case, a lizard to a snake.


I’ve pushed my comfort zone, risked conflict with people and got up close and personal with venomous snakes and poisonous frogs.  Although I understand the ‘natural’ and ‘personal choice’ arguments of live bating, for me, there’s ‘something of the coliseum about it’.  Live baiting to support entertainment makes me uncomfortable.  So no, I think I might pass on this opportunity to get THE shot.

Sometimes photography can be a personal, emotional journey.