Rent-a-Wolf: Filmmakers Fake Wildlife 'Documentaries'

VIDEO: Chris Palmers book "Shooting in the Wild" exposes secrets used in nature films.
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As executive producer of wildlife documentaries that include the titles "Wolves," "Dolphins," "Bears," and two films on tigers, Chris Palmer has spent more than 25 years helping to guide armchair adventurers through the wonders of nature.

Palmer, who describes himself as an adventurer who has swam with whales and sharks, gotten up close and personal with Kodiak bears, camped among the wolves, and trudged through an Everglades swamp.

But in his new book, Palmer, whose work has appeared on IMAX screens and on primetime television, points a finger at himself and other nature documentary filmmakers, shedding light on what he sees as a pervasive practice of faking nature.

Deception in Animal Documentaries
Deception in Animal Documentaries

"Wildlife films, too many of them, involve deceptions, manipulations, misrepresentations, fraudulence, and the audience doesn't know,'' said Palmer, 63, in an interview with "Nightline's" John Donvan.

Nature TV is popular because it offers a bird's eye view of the wonders of the world as they unfold, out there for anyone to see, but available to only the relative few who have the time, the money, and the equipment for adventure.

Yet according to Palmer, the reality is filmmakers often intricately stage -- and even contrive -- nature in these so-called documentaries.

"We had a scientist who had this killer whale skull and we asked him if he would bring it and then we put it at the bottom of the sea," said Palmer, referring to his film "Whales: An Unforgettable Journey."

In his "Wolves" documentary, a lupine pack fed on a carcass that was not the tasty bounty of nature it seemed to be.

"We found a dead animal,'' said Palmer. "You know there is lots of road kill around..so we put it there" on the set.

Palmer added that often, though not in his "Wolves" film, when producers want to show a feeding scrum, they will place M&Ms or other treats inside an animal carcass to entice other animals to devour it.

He acknowledges other artifice in his "Wolves," documentary.

In the film, mother cubs scratch out an existence on the side of an unforgiving mountain, their only refuge a den dug out of the hard earth. But the wolves pictured are, in fact, rented. Animal actors who live on a game farm.

Read the Fine Print: Film Credits Reveal that Creatures of Wildlife are Actors

And the den they are living in?

"We dug it out, we help set it up,'' said Palmer. "Now see, we're inside now this is not a real den," he said, as he watched the film with ABC News. "I mean the mother is acting like this is a real den and this is not dissimilar from what you might see in real life, in reality. But in order to get a camera in there, the wolf is habituated to the noisy camera and the cameraman, this is all made up."

These manipulations are sometimes excused by filmmakers because they are revealed, in fine print, during the closing credits. Palmer's "Wolves" film included this disclaimer in the credits:

"Sections of this film were made possible by employing captive animals. This reduces stress on wild populations that would otherwise be affected by prolonged or intrusive filming requirements. No animals were harmed during the production of this film,"

"But who reads the credits? Except my mother?" said Palmer. "Technically we're covered, but there is no indication in the film, that those are (not) wild wolves, people would think they were watching wild and free roaming wolves."

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