Wildlife Photog & Instructor Pleads Guilty to Violating Endangered Species Act


Oftentimes we’ll do whatever it takes to get that one particular shot. But what happens when you cross the line, break federal law and don’t properly respect the subjects you’re trying to photograph? Well, Florida-based wildlife photographer and photography instructor Jim Neiger recently found out.

The law that was broken is the Endangered Species Act, which requires people to stay at least 500 feet away from the nests of endangered species so as to not affect the young offspring.

In this case, the endangered species was the Snail Kite, which is a raptor in the same family as eagles and hawks. According to paperwork from the courts, Neiger was spotted eight times between 2010-2011 “wedg[ing] his pontoon boat into the reeds” next to the nests of these birds in hopes of drawing them out so that he and those he was teaching could photograph them.

Flight School

After some time in the court system, Neiger has pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the Endangered Species Act in hopes of avoiding the standard sentencing of up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Prosecutors say two years probation is likely going to be the result, although there aren’t any guarantees that he won’t face more severe consequences. Beyond the possible probation, Neiger agreed to pay $9,000 in fines so that he wouldn’t have to surrender his boat motor and cameras.

It’s a steep price to pay for what were probably a couple dozen portfolio shots at the most. It just goes to show how important it is, not only to obey the law, but to respect your subject… be it human or otherwise. We as photographers are tasked with capturing the world around us, and that task carries with it a certain level of responsibility.

To paraphrase Voltaire (or Spiderman if you prefer): with great photography comes great responsibility.

(via WESH Orlando)

Image credits: Everglade Snail Kite by Flickr user vladbe

  • Me

    Target fixation.

    No matter how much you want the shot, ethics always applies.

  • Andrew Kandel

    He was running tours to photograph the kites, so it was more than “a couple of dozen portfolio shots at the most.”

  • Slvrscoobie

    No, not in addition, did you read the article you sourced? He DIDNT give up boat/cameras and instead PAID $9000.

  • Jake

    Exactly. In lieu… meaning instead of.

  • Gannon Burgett

    Thank you. That was a very prominent mis-reading and mis-reporting on my behalf. The article has since been changed to reflect the correct information.

  • Gannon Burgett

    Thanks for the heads-up. It was a mis-reading and mis-reporting on my behalf. The article has been updated to reflect the correct information.

  • sixchain

    If he were smart, he would have shot on a micro 4/3 camera with a 500mm lens to get that 2x conversion factor.

  • pgb0517

    He should not have broken the law. But there is nothing inherently evil about what he did – it was wrong only because people passed a law saying it was wrong. The Endangered Species Act should have been repealed or weakened years ago.

  • Jennifer McCallum

    I don’t think that’s a steep price compared to what the birds may have paid…stress at the very least and possibly abandoning young birds to starve. I cringe whenever I see images of eggs in nests and very young fawn because I don’t think most people understand the damage their presence can create in nature. And unfortunately some people that know just don’t care. Hopefully those are still in the minority.

  • Gok Han

    or he could just crop the picture.

  • Gok Han

    or he could have just cropped the picture

  • Jim Krick

    Actually by encroaching on the nest and flushing the adults he could have caused the adults to abandon the nest and eggs/nestlings. What he did was wrong for more than just it was the law.

  • Guest

    or possibly, he could have just made the conscious decision to have cropped the frame of the picture in question.

  • Matt

    The problem was not one of distance. He was flushing them out because they most likely are not visiable or at least not in a photogenic spot when in their nest.

  • Matt

    My assumption is that it is not target fixation. He was taking tours. He most likely needed to get the shot for his customers. More economics. I could see getting a bad name because your customers go home without the photo they wanted.

  • Ian

    As a fellow wildlife photographer from Florida, it’s sad to see this article. We also have people feeding alligators (also illegal) and other things like that to attract or get closer to wildlife. While we all want to get “the shot”, one of the major reasons we photograph these magnificent creatures is to show everyone else why they should be protected. If we cross the line to do that, then we aren’t giving anyone else much reason to conserve wildlife and their habitats.

  • Matt

    Wow, no. Just no. Your cavalier attitude about the environment is a perfect example of why those laws are needed. There are a lot of ignorant, stupid and callous people who would destroy the environment just to make a few cents more, or just because they are lazy. These people need to be stopped or at least slowed down.

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    I grew up in the countryside with a lot of experience with wildlife, particularly fowl, and it’s not necessarily clear from this article that the guy’s actions would be detrimental. They well could have been, I don’t know, but it’s not clear from the information provided here.

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    Under “It just goes to show…”, the first lesson should be “know the

    If the nests are at the edge of a lake, and if the law says “stay
    500 feet away”, can you imagine infringing on the law by accident,
    because you didn’t know there were nests or because you didn’t realize
    499 feet was too close? Heck, depending on the situation, merely driving by on a nearby road may be a federal offense.

    (The comment above is about the law, not about the specifics of this guy’s case.)

  • Sterling

    Classic example of how one person can ruin it for everyone.

  • Sky

    m4/3 fanboys. Like a disease.

  • silverhalide

    You can walk up to any human, even a child, in public and flash them in the face for a “candid,” but not certain birds?
    You can kill billions of chickens and make them suffer their entire lives, but you can’t photograph some up close?
    How arbitrary.

  • RaconsMom

    So breaking the law is okay in your eyes… thanks for letting us know!

  • NancyP

    The Snail Kite is doing well in areas outside the USA, but the Florida snail kite population is down to approximately 400 pairs. The problem is that their preferred prey, the apple snail, is decreasing due to decreasing water levels. I have read that he has been cited multiple times for flushing the birds off the nest. If so, he should know better, and know how close to come without flushing the birds. I would be willing to bet that he has pissed off the park rangers one too many time. Nesting birds of many species are more sensitive than usual to encroaching humans, and many wildlife reserves have “closed” seasons to allow the birds to nest comfortably.

    A responsible wildlife photographer will work within the species’ comfort zone, and will have some knowledge of the subject beyond, “that’s species “X” for the life list, folks”. I sympathize with his business problems, probably he has pushy clients too, it is hard to make a living with tours even if you have good technical skills, as he does. Both the client and the photographer need to restrain themselves.

    I can understand the temptation to make the shot, too.

  • silverhalide

    Yes. Unjust, unethical, and arbitrary laws that fulfill a political agendas need not be followed. What is illegal today could easily be legal tomorrow and vice versa.
    Good to know that you blindly follow laws because someone says you should regardless of their morality.

  • silverhalide

    In a country with over 1.3 million laws (over 40,000 of which went into effect January 1st) you likely broke a dozen laws while replying to my comment!

  • Andres Trujillo

    so wait, because tomorrow the bird may not be in danger (of becoming extinct), and because we kill an animal (or several groups of animals) that run no risk of extinction, then this law is “arbitrary”, am I correct to assume that this is your point?

  • Andres Trujillo

    from the article “Neiger was spotted eight times between 2010-2011 “wedg[ing] his pontoon boat into the reeds” next to the nests of these birds in hopes of drawing them out ” I would say that he was (at a minimum) causing uneccesary stress to the animals (a little bit more than just driving by)