Exclusive: NatGeo’s Yellowstone Live presents years old documentary footage as live

National Geographic Channel presents footage published 3 years ago as being from animals they filmed this week during the broadcast, Yellowstone Live.  

As a wildlife photographer, I abide by a few simple rules:

1) Respect the wildlife.

2) Get the shot honestly and ethically.

3) Present an image in the post-edit as close to how you actually experienced it.

In the era of photoshop and fake news banter, authentic photography is a fundamental ethic which National Geographic Magazine has historically promoted.  Editorial polices express the belief that what the reader sees, should be what the photographer saw naturally…no baiting of wildlife, no over-manipulation of images during post-processing, etc.

Unfortunately, this ethic apparently does not extend to National Geographic Channel with videography because it is purposefully and with shocking intent presenting stock footage filmed 3 years ago as being from animals they are following this week during a live TV and internet broadcast.

Yellowstone Live, is a four-night multi-platform production presenting the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.  It premiered on the National Geographic Channel August 5, 2018 and is hosted by former CBS reporter Josh Elliott with co-hosting by animal expert Chris Packham and FS1 reporter Jenna Wolfe.  In the series press release, it says the production will use

“a complex network of 34 live cameras, 200 crew, cutting-edge, first-ever cell-phone bundling technology to broadcast in the most remote locations, live-audience interaction; digital coverage on multiple platforms and innovative technologies including the following:

A “Magma Cam,” a thermal imaging camera, which will reveal Yellowstone’s thermal features

Aerial views of essential wildfires

Aerial filming of a wolf pack in remote wilderness area

Footage from inside a beaver lodge”

Let’s examine that last bullet point…footage from inside a beaver lodge.  The co-hosts in both Episode 1 and 2, present multiple clips of beaver lodge footage as either ‘happening right now’ or with the introduction “these are pictures we got a little while ago”.   Yet, these are the exact same video images which appeared in Wild Yellowstone, a documentary published by National Geographic in 2015.  Not ‘sort of similar’ but exact frame for frame identical.  These animals were not filmed “a little while ago” as the host states, unless you count 3-4 years ago as fitting that criteria.  See the comparison for yourself:

Above Snip from 2015 documentary “Wild Yellowstone”
Snip from Yellowstone Live Episode 2

Host Josh Elliott introduces the Episode 2 clip by saying “Another family intensively studied is a family of beavers who we’ve been with all week long following this family out at Schwabacher’s Landing.  We want to check back in and see what they’ve been up to.”  In fact, the animal family in the footage was first published in a 2015 documentary Wild Yellowstone-Grizzly Summer.

“Another family intensively studied is a family of beavers who we’ve been with all week long following this family out at Schwabacher’s Landing.  We want to check back in and see what they’ve been up to.” In fact, the animal family in the footage was first published in a 2015 documentary.

Color footage of a beaver with a branch is shown while Christ Packham narrates. Then as the color footage transitions to a black-and-white infrared scene, Packham says Now these are some pictures we got a little while ago showing….” The footage airing during Packham’s narration is from the 2015 documentary.  Packham continues, “Let’s listen..remember this is in pitch blackness.” Both Packham and Elliott chat back and forth about how cute the images and sounds of the baby beaver chewing a stick are.  (See the full clip below).

A second clip is then played showing a beaver on a the bank felling a tree.  The image is of a single beaver first running towards then direction of where the tree will fall and then, changing direction and running away.  Eliiott wraps up the segment by saying “so that’s what we were capturing remotely”.  This is the exact same beaver footage from 2015.  Judge the comparison:

Above Snip from documentary Wild Yellowstone 2015
Above Snip from Yellowstone Live Ep 2

Emmy Award winning wildlife cinema-photographer Jeff Hogan was on the production crew of the 2015 Wild Yellowstone footage and is also featured prominently in Yellowstone Live photographing a beaver dam.

Jeff Hogan Yellowstone Live Ep 1

Hogan provides live commentary, indicating that he can ‘hear the young beavers squawking’.  He does not verbally present his footage from the 2015 production, rather it is co-hosts Elliott and Packham who pass the footage off as ‘a family of beavers  they’ve been following this week’.

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph wildlife knows that wild creatures are unpredictable…they don’t perform on demand. I personally think attempting a live show with wildlife is asking for disappointment…truly wild animals cannot be located on que, let alone photographed doing captivating things which might keep an audience’s attention for one or two hours.

Therefore, it is understandable that the production company would need to have some stock footage on hand for those  moments when their 34 live cameras and 200 crew (if that is indeed true) fail to capture anything at all worth sharing.  If they’ve done their homework, then those moments should be rare AND they should say so…the audience will understand.  The show would have been just as good without the false statements. But to present it as either happening right now or even within the past few days is dishonest.  And this is the impression the audience clearly received. 

 

In an era where the term ‘fake news’ proliferates and science is routinely questioned, educational programming should be beyond reproach.  Shame on National Geographic and the production company (Plimsoll Productions in association with Berman Productions) for not being more forthcoming in their presentation of wildlife. If we can’t trust what we see on a nature presentation from esteemed National Geographic, then it’s a sad commentary on where we are culturally–that the desire to entertain and fool the audience outweighs the desire for truth and transparency.  How is the public to trust anything else presented?

Watch a 2 minute clip from Yellowstone Live Episode 2 and judge for yourself if you get the impression the footage presented is live/recent from the week or from 3 years ago, links to exact same images from 2015’s Wild Yellowstone follows below:

 

The full Wild Yellowstone documentary containing the beaver footage can be viewed at time mark 7:45 and 34:00 of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTjQJtr44Gk

 

 

 

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