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It's Harder to Use Wild Animals as Photo Props Now

The Supreme Court of Montana has made it harder for photographers and filmmakers to use exotic animals as photo props.

After several years of hearings and appeals, the State of Montana has revoked Troy Hyde's permit to act as a roadside menagerie. Hyde and his company Animals of Montana (AOM) are infamous for being a part of the Detroit Packard plant incident, where a tiger escaped its handlers during a photoshoot, the mauling death of Benjamin Cloutier by two film bears used as film props, and a whole slew of animal treatment violations uncovered by Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP).

Until the revocation, Hyde and AOM supplied animals to photographers for a variety of photoshoots. At times, AOM and Hyde provided animals to world-famous photographer David Yarrow. 

Evidence provided by Animals of Montana in their license appeal. Photo by David Yarrow.

If you came across my article about this hearing back in December of 2020, you'll note that I was concerned that AOM's argument that the doctrine of entrapment by estoppel should protect their license. I'm no expert on US Constitutional Law, but the argument sounded like it had merit. 

Thankfully, that worry proved to be unwarranted.

In dismissing the estoppel argument for a variety of technical reasons, Justice Ingrid Gustafson also outlined the litany of undefended violations uncovered by FWP's investigation of AOM. Notably, AOM:

  1. failed to have a firearm or tranquilizer gun ready and available any time an animal is taken offsite,
  2. failed to keep animals within an electrified barrier while offsite,
  3. insufficiently secured cages,
  4. provided cages without sun shelter,
  5. left cage padlocks unlocked,
  6. provided insufficient freshwater to the animals, and
  7. left cages unsanitary and/or cramped. 

Because Justice Gustafson's decision centered on the technicalities of AOM's estoppel argument, she didn't need to trot these violations out again in her decision. I'm assuming that she did so, on behalf of a unanimous court no less, to highlight the treatment of Hyde's and AOM's animals. 

Someone will fill the gap left by Hyde and AOM. For some reason, endangering panthers or tigers to get gratuitous shots of these animals with half-naked women is still a thing. Until we cut the demand for photos of exotic wildlife that endangers the animals, there will always be someone to supply them. As Yarrow put it, it is in part up to us as the photographers and models to stand up for the wildlife that can't speak up for itself:

Some wild animals in captivity are looked after with the highest of standards, but removing ourselves from the equation removes the need to conduct the necessary due diligence on each project — something we and most outsiders are ill-equipped to do.

Image from Montana Supreme Court filings on behalf of AOM.

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