What started out as something fun for a father and son to do together has evolved into a quest for a Colorado teenager to be photographed with every member of the animal kingdom.
Tallon Nightwalker, 16, has already been photographed with 840 different types of wild animals, starting from when he was 5 years old. He doesn't plan on stopping, either, considering the thousands of photo opportunities that still exist with untold varieties of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. To date, he's been photographed with everything from a bull snake to a spider monkey to a black bear, all in the wild.
“We set goals every year to get another 100 or however many, and we've been able to achieve that goal for most of the years,’’ Tallon told TODAY.com. “I can foresee it going even further, if not to all of them.’’
Nightwalker’s father, Bob, is the manager of the Larimer (Colo.) Humane Society's wildlife rehabilitation department, and started taking pictures of his son with the animals after thinking of all the animals he had worked with in the past and failed to photograph. The two set rules that the animal has to be alive, and Tallon has to be holding it, standing right next to it, or in the foreground or background from it. The animal also has to be barrier-free.
“Anyone can stand in front of a cage and get a picture with an animal,’’ Bob Nightwalker told TODAY.com. “There are some animals that are just too dangerous, but we’re pretty safe. We have our handling skills that we rely on, and if we go to other facilities to take pictures of other animals, we have those handlers to rely on.’’
“It gives it such a uniqueness,’’ said Tallon, who is a junior at Poudre (Colo.) High School. “It gives the picture some more edge to it and people can say, ‘Wow that’s incredible.’’’
Tallon has volunteered at the Larimer Humane Society since he was 5, helping to nurse sick or injured animals back to health. When he takes a photograph with each animal, he posts it on his Facebook page with a note about whether it is endangered or not.
“We do learn about the animals while we're there,’’ Tallon said. “It's not like we go there for five minutes and just stand there for the picture. We talk to the zookeeper or the handler and get the animal’s back story. That’s half of the fun right there is being able to build our knowledge on every animal.’’
“It did just start out as a hobby, but it has evolved to have a message behind it,’’ Bob said. “We’ve started in trying to figure out what are some of the dangers that some of these species face, whether it’s habitat destruction or poisoning, and we want it to continue to evolve to have good messages.’’
The Nightwalkers have been able get pictures with a host of exotic animals thanks to the cooperation from the managers of other wildlife sanctuaries in Colorado. They also have gone on camping trips to California and South Dakota in search of new animals to photograph.
While they stress safety during the photos, there have been a few hairy situations. Tallon has been bitten a few times, but never seriously.
“We were tromping to a marsh area to get a picture of a moose and her calf, and she was eyeballing us pretty heavy for a while,’’ Bob said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure this is right.’’’
“There have definitely been pictures where I’m a little nervous, but I’ve never felt really in danger of anything,’’ Tallon said. “Either I can always trust my dad, or somebody there who has spent years around that animal. We do it incredibly safely, because if we don’t then the whole point is lost.’’
While most teenagers actively try to avoid their parents, the photo quest has become a way for the father and son to form a tight bond. Tallon also plans on making a professional career out of wildlife rehabilitation just like his father.
“Despite the fact that I'm a single dad and I don't make a lot of money, Tallon has pictures from animals all over the world,’’ Bob said. “He didn't have to travel to Asia or Africa to get that particular animal because he’s gotten it here and in neighboring states, which is pretty cool. Just like any parent and kid we bicker, but when we're in the moment, it's a really cool experience.’’
Tallon said he's grateful for the unforgettable times he's had with his dad.
“In one picture there was a crocodile behind me and I had to kneel down and look at the camera, so I couldn't see it, so I was relying completely on my dad and a keeper to say whether he was coming up on me,’’ Tallon said. “There is a great deal of trust between me and my dad that has formed because of this. We always have had incredible experiences along the way that a lot of people won’t have.’’
The two said they don't have one specific animal that would be a crowning achievement to photograph; for them, it's more about the journey along the way. Like fishermen, they also have plenty of stories about the one that got away, which is often an issue when trying to photograph animals in the wild.
“There have been times when I had the camera and had that perfect opportunity with Tallon there, and I didn't have enough batteries in the camera,’’ Bob said, laughing. “It happened just last weekend that a bird perched right by Tallon, and I went to get the camera and it took off.’’
“There have been a few of those cases,’’ Tallon said. “You’re trying to get a picture with a bird, and it's just not cooperating. It's frustrating, but that's part of the fun. We can pursue them later, and it's an accomplishment when you get the picture.’’
To see more images of Tallon Nightwalker with wild animals, check out his Facebook page.