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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 48 - Tom Mangelsen, Part 1

Thomas D. Mangelsen is one of the most influential nature photographers in the world. Guided by a deep conservation ethic, Tom is legendary for his advocacy in seeking protection of rare and imperiled species. Tom has a special passion for grizzlies, wolves and mountain lions, and co-wrote The Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, with Todd Wilkinson, that features a grizzly bear known as 399 -- perhaps the most famous grizzly in the world.

Tom and Louisa go way back, sharing a journey towards a more compassionate way of treating our fellow non-human travelers. In this wide-ranging conversation, Tom shares reflections on his evolution from hunting and trapping to carrying a camera instead of a gun, and his challenges as a conservationist speaking up for wildlife in an arena that promotes killing species like grizzlies, mountain lions and wolves -- for fun.


As a boy, learned to trap animals along the Platte River… And one day, I found a raccoon in one of my traps that had chewed his foot off to save himself… And then about three or four days later, I caught a three-footed raccoon and realized he had come back again because he was probably hungry. But that was sort of an eye-opening experience for me, an epiphany, that this poor raccoon had had to chew his foot off…And it was one of the early lessons that I learned that animals are so special and intelligent -- and they just want so hard to live -- and that it’s so easy for us to kill them.

I was still hunting ducks for many years after that, and geese, but the more I learned about hunting, the more I wanted to get away from that. And I started photographing them when I graduated from college, so I hung up the gun and started taking pictures instead, which was a lot more rewarding.

…So hunting gave me the background to have the patience that I do now for photography, which is no different than the skill and the craft of knowing where to be during what season for getting photographs.

Five million people came through Teton Park last year -- and probably 500,000 of those saw a grizzly bear or a wolf. And if these animals were shot or trapped [outside the park], that would steal that opportunity from that many people, which seems pretty selfish and stupid -- and for somebody who’s ego is driven by killing and hanging something on the wall.

And I saw how most of our wildlife management is based on hunting and or fishing, but mostly hunting. The laws are written in favor of hunters, and in favor of killing basically as many animals of a species in a particular area as that area and species can tolerate before maybe the population retreats or crashes. And that’s all in favor of selling as many licenses as possible…


For more about Tom and his art:

For a copy of Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, Tom’s book about the famous Grizzly 399, with co-author Todd Wilkinson:

For more about the Cougar Fund:


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