Pallas cat looking into the distance

Pallas Cats and Tigers at Port Lympne

Today was our first day back to Port Lympne since they introduced their Passport scheme.  It’s been 9 months since our last visit and to be honest, I’m amazed that we haven’t been back sooner, especially since there was the opportunity to watch the Amur tiger cubs growing up!  Still, we’re here now and armed with Passports, we can come back as often as we like.

There have been quite a few changes at Port Lympne since we were last here and I’ve yet to decide whether it is an improvement or not.  Many of the animals have been moved to different enclosures, some for the better, others, in my personal opinion are for the worse.  I was also extremely surprised to see that Port Lympne had Red Pandas again so soon.

Upon arrival, we were given a map and told to make our way to Base Camp.  From there, we would take one of the safari trucks to do a tour of the African Experience.  The truck would stop at certain points and we were free to hop on and off as we felt like it.  Whilst the ride was different and allowed us to see many of the resident animals, it didn’t really stop long enough for those of us looking for photographic opportunities. I can honestly say that having ridden on the safari truck once, I don’t personally feel the need to do that part of the experience again.  For me, it simply ate too much into my photographic opportunity time.

The final truck stop was by the entrance of the Carnivore Territory.  As we approached, I noticed that the Scottish Wildcat enclosure was now off show.  Fortunately, there was still access to the Lynx and Caracals who were situated across the road from the Wildcat enclosure. However, unless you have been to Port Lympne before, you would not necessarily know which path to take in order to see them as they are not signposted.

New to us in the Carnivore Territory was the Pallas Cat enclosure.  It is simply enormous and quite lovely for the resident Pallas Cats, of which there are two – both females.

Pallas cat stare

Regular readers of my blog will know how fond I am of Pamir Pallas Cat (location currently unknown) and how pretty I think she is; but I have to say that this little girl comes a close second.

Pallas cat running out of tunnel

She kept us amused for ages by doing a little circuit of the enclosure.  This started off with her disappearing into her log, scampering around the back to emerge into view again from the tunnel below. From there, she would run along a connecting log, have a little scratch and then disappear back into the little log.  Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit, just to keep it interesting for us.

Pallas cat emerging from tunnel at Port Lympne

Meet Delhi and Calcutta, Port Lympne’s resident Bengal tigers.

Male Bengal Tiger

The tigers were located quite close to one of the eating areas and as we were hungry, we decided to have a very late lunch before taking more pictures of them.  The timing of our eating couldn’t have been better.  No sooner had we sat down than the heavens opened up.  It rained heavily for quite some time and by the time it finally abated, the tigers had retired to their den.

Bengal Tiger of Port Lympne

We decided to go and see the Amur tigers but when we arrived, they were all asleep!  As it was getting close to closing time for the park we decided to call it a day and come back another time.  Now that we know the new locations of all the cats, our next visit should be more productive.

Three month old fishing cat kitten

Farewell Fishing Cat Kittens

It’s been just over 5 weeks since my last visit to the Rare Species Conservation Centre (RSCC) and I was excited at the prospect of seeing all the kittens and pallas cats again. Having spent so much time with them before the centre closed for the month of June, I had missed them.  Little did I realise how precious this visit would turn out to be…..

At just over 3 months old, the Fishing Cat kittens had grown a lot and were starting to lose their kittenish looks but they were still as cute as a button.

Shy fishing cat kitten

I wondered whether the kittens would recognise me after such a long break and was ridiculously happy when they came over to say hello.

Fishing cat kitten looking up

The kittens were now eating solid food but were still relying on milk from their mother so whilst they suckled, I left to see how the Rusty Spotted Kitten was getting on.

At 10 weeks old, the Rusty Spotted Kitten had also grown but as you can see, he is still very much a kitten. He was still quite shy and decided that he preferred to peek at me from the safety of his den rather than stay out in the open.

Rusty spotted kitten peeking

Daddy Rusty Spotted Cat is kept in a separate enclosure because he wasn’t playing so nice with the kitten.

Rusty spotted cat emerging from tree hole

The Amazonian area was being repainted and the smell of paint was starting to make me feel queasy so I popped outside from some fresh air.  I timed my exit well as Schlotti the Sun Bear was out and about.

Schlotti Sun Bear

RSCC is home to two Sun Bears – Schlotti and Indera. The latter is a young male and still quite shy so although they share the same enclosure, they take their play time in the sun separately.  This is mainly to help Indera settle in.  As the keeper called Schlotti to get her back into her pen, I waited for Indera to come out. He was surprisingly easy to spot.

Sun Bear climbing

Short Face and Long Face, the juvenile Fishing Cats were also out and about and posed beautifully for me.

Fishing cat on rock

My favourite Pallas Cat, the lovely Pamir. Whilst I didn’t get to spend much time with Pamir while she lived at WHF as a kitten, I had grown quite attached to her since her move to RSCC to become part of the Pallas Cat European Endangered Species Program (EEP).  In fact, had it not been for Pamir, I would never have discovered RSCC.

Wise face of a Pallas Cat

The Rare Species Conservation Centre has been phenomenally successful when it comes to breeding and the thought of being able to spend lots of time with Pallas Cat kittens, should Pamir get pregnant filled me with much excitement.  However, this was not to be.

As I mentioned at the start of my blog post, I had no idea how precious this visit to the RSCC was going to be. Unbeknownst to me, this was to be the last time that I would see Pamir, Genghis, the Fishing Cat kittens and their parents at RSCC. Just a fortnight after I visited, they were all relocated.

I still have no idea where Pamir and Genghis have gone and this saddens me greatly. What pictures I have of them are now so very precious, as are those of the Fishing Cat kittens as teeny weeny kittens.

I also have no idea of the whereabouts of the Fishing Cat kittens’ parents.  The kittens themselves now call the Wildlife Heritage Foundation home.  They’ve also been given names – the boys are called Aquarius and Neptune and the girl, Angel. I take some comfort in the fact that I will still be able to see them grow up but it won’t be the same as I no longer have the easy access that I once had when they were at RSCC.

Bold fox cub

Fox cubs in evening sunlight

Our third and final workshop at the British Wildlife Centre was with another photography group – this was by far the largest group I had been with and I was concerned about how many photo opportunities we would be able to get.  But with the exception of one ignoramus, it turned out to be ok.  We haven’t been especially lucky with the weather on our last few photographic expeditions and today was no exception.  As we went through the health and safety talk (which we could barely hear over the extremely loud thunder), the rain came down like a monsoon.

The rain eventually went away enabling us to commence our first session with Flo, Frodo and their 4 cubs.

A flash of fox cub

Given I was only at the British Wildlife Centre less than a fortnight ago, I was pleased to see that the cubs still looked “young”.  Babies grow up too fast in my opinion.

Bright eyed fox cub

Not wanting to overfeed the cubs so that they wouldn’t come out in the evening, we moved on to see the otters.

Otter in pastels

Honey the badger cub. This is where the size of the group became a slight issue.  There were simply too many of us and not enough space to get decent shots of her.  It didn’t help that Honey was obsessed with the keeper’s legs and kept wanting to climb them!

Badger cub sniffing leaves

Velvet the Polecat recently gave birth to 7 kittens.  We had hoped to see them today but mum was too hungry and kept eating all the food rather than taking it to her babies.

Polecat perched on log

The British Wildlife Centre have been extremely unlucky with their wildcats this year.  Both Kendra and her sister Iona lost their litters and their respective mates, Lex and Angus.  Iona has now moved in with Kendra, leaving the enclosure that she used to share with Angus free for her litter from last year to occupy.

We hadn’t expected to see Kendra as she had been having a bad week.  First, she had been netted so that she could be vaccinated and then her sister had moved in with her.  But to our surprise, she came out to greet us.

Watchful wildcat

We didn’t stay long with her as we didn’t want to cause her any unnecessary stress.  Plus, it was time to go back to the fox cubs for our second session with them.

All four cubs will be re-homed at the end of the summer, when they are just a bit too big for the enclosure and boisterous for the parents, so this really was our last chance to see them before they leave.

Portrait of a fox cub

I hadn’t fully appreciated just how tiny the little owls were, or how cute! And that’s saying something considering I have a bird phobia!

Little owl perched on a stump

With the light fading fast, the Tawny Owl was our last subject.

Portrait of a tawny owl

In spite of the weather, it was another good photographic day. I was especially glad to be able to get some more pictures of Flo and Frodo’s cubs before they leave for their new homes.  We currently don’t have any plans to go back to the British Wildlife Centre this year but if there is an opportunity to photograph Velvet’s kits and Isla and Richie Jr (Iona’s litter from last year), then the situation may change.

Close-up red ruffed lemur

Apenheul Primate Park

Apenheul Primate Park is located in the Woudhuizer Bos forest in Apeldoorn, Netherlands.  It opened in 1971 as a small but revolutionary zoo, the first and only zoo in the world where monkeys not only live and roam freely in the forest but are also free to walk around the visitors.

The man behind the concept was Rotterdam photographer, Wim Mager, who in an age where owning exotic animals was still legal, owned 2 Tamarins. He created the apen-heul (from apen meaning monkeys, and heul, an old Dutch word for a safe haven).  The concept was simple: primates thrive better in more natural environments than in cages with bars. By allowing them to live in large and natural enclosures in the forest, the primates were able to form ideal social groups and to reproduce successfully.

Our journey to Apeldoorn was easy and very relaxing.  We caught the overnight super ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and from there, it was a 2 hour drive to the park.  I don’t normally like travelling by ferry but the super ferry was something else.  Free wifi, on board cinema room showing the latest films, multiple restaurants, bars and play areas for children and teenagers.  The rooms were all well appointed and the beds extremely comfortable.

Due to terrible traffic, we didn’t arrive at Apenheul Primate Park until 11.30am local time.  It was decided that we should maximise our time in the park and check in to the hotel at the end of the day.

As we entered the park, one of the helpful keepers informed us that they were just about to feed the lemurs so we headed straight to their area. I’ve never been able to get a good picture of the red ruffed lemur due to fencing or the location of their enclosure.  However, this was not a problem here at Apenheul.

Red ruffed lemur at Apenheul Primate Park

Apenheul Primate Park are currently celebrating a baby boom.  Aside from baby ring tailed lemurs, they also have baby gorillas, baby bonobos, baby squirrel monkeys and an adorable baby orangutan.

Did you know that baby orangutans literally cling to their mothers for the first 8 years of their lives? Humans and orangutans share 97% of their DNA so it should come as no surprise that the orangutan is the most loving, maternal and gentle of all primates.  They literally do not have a nasty or vicious streak in the entire species.

Baby Orangutan

On the other hand, humans share 98% of their DNA with monkeys which kill and rape their own species.  Amazing what a difference that 1% can make isn’t it?  Makes you wonder what is hidden in the 2% that makes us humans the way we are….

The orangutans sensed a change in the weather and proceeded to move under shelter.  They weren’t wrong. Within minutes, the heavens opened up big time.  We sought shelter at one of the food areas and decided to have lunch whilst the weather rained itself out.  As the skies cleared, we made our way to see the gorillas as it was close to their feeding time.

This magnificent Silver Back male is the father of all the juveniles and babies in the group.

Silverback gorilla at Apenheul Primate Park

We had planned to use our flash guns off-camera in order to avoid giving the gorillas red eyes.  However, the bracket was heavy and there was no way to secure the flash gun securely to it so we left the flash guns on the camera instead. Given the distance between the gorillas and us, having them on the camera didn’t actually matter.

Female silverback gorilla

The gorillas seemed to know when the talk about them was over as they all left as we applauded the keeper.  We moved on to look for the Macaques.

A Lion Tailed Macaque.

Lion Tailed Macaque with windswept hair

The Barbary Macaques.

Barbary Macaque photographed at Apenheul Primate Park

Trying to photograph the Golden Lion Tamarins resulted in many photographs being discarded as they were so fast moving.

Golden Lion Tamarin in tree at Apenheul Primate Park

The following morning, we arrived at the park at 10am and headed straight to the lemur enclosure.

Ring Tailed Lemur posing as the thinker

Although Apenheul is primarily a primate park, it is also home to other mammals like the Coati and birds such as the Ibis and Hornbills.  The route to the exit of the park is through an aviary.  Since I have a bird phobia, this proved to be problematic for me.  Luckily there was a shortcut that I could take that bypassed the aviary.

Whilst waiting for David to finish taking photos in the aviary, I took the opportunity to take pictures of the primates situated near the exit. The Titi Monkey seemed happy to be sharing space with the Pied and Golden Headed Lion Tamarin.

Titi Monkey as photographed by Pui Hang Miles at Apenheul Primate Park

We left the park at closing time and despite having spent 2 days there, we still didn’t manage to get round to photographing all the primates that call Apenheul home.  This was due to the inclement weather which frequently saw us running for cover.  On the plus side, it gives us an excuse to revisit later on in the year.

Vixen in the meadow

British Wildlife Animals and their Babies

Due to circumstances beyond our control, I was unable to go with David when he went to the British Wildlife Centre to photograph their babies.  It was 10 days later before I was able to follow suit.  I prayed that the weather would be kinder to me than it had to him and as I headed towards BWC, it looked like my prayers had been answered.

I was excited for two reasons. The first and most obvious reason was because I was going to get the chance to photograph baby British wildlife animals; the second reason – this was going to be my first outing with my brand spanking new lens. A Canon 28mm-300mm L Series lens.  I’d been increasingly frustrated by always seeming to have the wrong lens attached to my camera body and thus missing out on some great photo opportunities.  It was my hope that my new lens would solve this problem.

Our group consisted of just 3 people including myself – this worked for me as it meant that taking photos would be a lot easier with better opportunities to get that special shot.  Our first stop was one of the fox enclosures to meet Josh and Biscuit.

Biscuit decided that she wanted to play shy today so Josh ‘man’fully stepped up to the plate to fill the gap.

Fox looking upwards

While we were photographing Josh, our keeper for the day, Laura, noticed that Frodo had emerged and asked if we would like to take pictures of him.  Hoping that his cubs might come out and play, we agreed to move to the next enclosure.  However, we were in there for barely 5 minutes when the heavens opened up. We took cover under a bush, hoping that the rain would pass but it didn’t.  As it became heavier, we realised that we needed to seek more substantial cover.  We barely made it back to the cafe before the rain became torrential.

After about 10 minutes, the weather cleared up enough for us to venture forth again.  I asked if anyone would mind if we visited the Scottish Wild Cats before moving on to see the otters.  My fellow photographers were fine with this so we went to visit Una and Kendra.

So much had happened to the Scottish Wild Cats since my last visit in February.  I had not expected to see Una still alive given her various ailments but there she was, looking better than ever (apart from a healing eye infection).  Kendra, on the other hand had suffered much loss.  She gave birth to kittens in April but due to an abcess in her mouth, she hadn’t been able to bring the kittens in during a cold snap and they had died.  Then, a few weeks later, she lost her mate Lex to kidney failure.

When I saw the pictures that David had taken of Kendra, I had been shocked at her condition.  I am pleased to say that she looked a lot better when I saw her.

When female big cats such as lionesses and leopardess lose their young, the shock sends them back into oestrus.  I asked Laura, if this could happen with cats.  She confirmed that there have been cases and they were hoping that perhaps Kendra might be pregnant again with Lex’s last litter.  Given everything she has gone through in the space of a few months, I sincerely hope that she is.

Kendra is a beautiful and feisty girl and my favourite animal at the British Wildlife Centre.   I will be watching her progress closely, hoping that she has a better latter half of 2011.

beautiful british wildlife wildcat

Meet Lily.  She’s a European Otter and incredibly funny.  Her antics remind me very much of my little Bella.  My favourite trick of Lily’s is when she dives underwater and you can track her progress by her air bubbles.  How sweet is that?

Lily and her mate Oscar are expecting baby otters soon.  Members of my family and extended family will be smiling as they read this and learn the names of the otters….

cute british wildlife otter

I had hoped to get some pictures of the hedgehogs on the grass, but it started to rain again.  Having seen how quickly the light rain could turn torrential, we decided not to take the risk and head back to the cafe for a tea break.  This turned out to be a very good idea.

Hoglet on the log

The rain lasted a lot longer this time but once it stopped, we headed back out to meet Honey, the orphaned Badger cub. This little cutie arrived at the centre in April and has been a huge hit with everyone she meets.

British wildlife badger cub

The rain came again as we were photographing Toby, one of the adult badgers.  We thought we would have to beat a retreat again, but luckily, the shower was short-lived.

I think it’s safe to say that this has been the best fox photography day I have had so far.

British red fox in a field of flowers

During the initial downpour, we had been offered the option to cancel the british wildlife photography afternoon and evening and to re-schedule for another time when the weather was better.  Given the amazing photo opportunities we got in spite of the rain, I’m glad we decided to stick it out.

As for my new lens – I think there was perhaps one single occasion when I was in with the fox cubs that I wished I had my 100mm-400mm lens with me but otherwise, I suspect that this will be my future lens of choice for photography.  The images are definitely sharper than those taken with my 100mm-400mm lens and despite my initial reservations about its weight (it is heavier than the 100mm-400mm), it’s actually ok for me to hold and use.

Many people refer to the 28mm-300mm as the travel lens but for me, I think my 100mm-400mm will remain my travel lens when I am out on safari in Africa or India.  I used a 300mm lens when I was out in Bandhavgarh last year and it just simply didn’t have the range for a lot of the shots I wanted to take.

I’ll be returning to the British Wildlife Centre in a fortnight’s time to see how all the cubs are progressing.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and manage to get some shots of the polecat kittens!

Baby Ring-Tailed Lemur

Wingham Wildlife Park

Wingham Wildlife Park is a small zoo located between Canterbury and Sandwich.  Until the arrival of the tiger cubs Troy and Blade, it was unfortunately best known as the zoo that lost a Meerkat, which was subsequently found dead in a dog waste bin.

The zoo faced a lot of criticism over how the Meerkat came to be taken and claimed that steps had been taken to prevent a re-occurence.  Whilst some things have changed, I personally don’t feel that they have done enough, especially since there is at least one enclosure which remains insecure.

Meerkat in profile

In April 2011, Wingham Wildlife Park became home to a pair of 3 week old tiger cubs.  The cubs have been named Troy and Blade and were abandoned by their mother who gave birth to them in a Berlin zoo.  When we went to visit them, these adorable little cubs were just shy of 12 weeks old.

Tiger cubs play fighting in the grass

Troy and Blade are hybrid Bengal tiger cubs. There is only one pure breed Bengal tiger in Europe and she resides at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Smarden. For those of you who are regulars to my blog, you will know her already – her name is Padmini.

Bengal Tiger Cub on grass at Wingham Wildlife Park

After the keeper had shown off Troy and Blade to the general public, we were allowed to take photographs of the adorable tiger cub brothers.  Troy can be identified by the fact that he has the darker coat of the two.

12 week old Bengal Tiger Cub taken at Wingham Wildlife Park

The biggest challenge we faced whilst taking photographs of the cubs was the keeper. I’m sure he meant well by interacting with the cubs but none of us actually wanted him in any of our photographs.  I found many a photo ruined by his legs or him suddenly standing in front of us in order to encourage the cubs to approach us.

Tiger cub practicing stalking at Wingham Wildlife Park

The Lemur enclosure is one of those affected by the new security measures that have been put in place since the theft of the Meerkat.  Whilst it is still a walk through enclosure, admittance is now only when a member of staff is in attendance within. Considering how many baby lemurs there are, I can’t say that I am surprised.

Ring-Tailed Lemur twins

I had no idea how sweet and gentle these lovely creatures were until we actually interacted with them.  They were naturally inquisitive and seemed to enjoy jumping onto our shoulders to examine our cameras and allowing us to give them a gentle stroke.  Their fur, by the way, is extremely soft.

Piggy Back Ride

One thing I will say for Wingham Wildlife Park is that they have an incredibly successful breeding program.  There were a lot of babies at the park, including Prairie Dog babies. Their enclosure is at the farthest end of the park and probably also the quietest area. I was therefore surprised and dismayed at how insecure the enclosure was.  Yes, there was a small electric fence to ensure that the Prairie Dogs did not escape but the wall is so low that there is nothing to stop someone from stepping over and taking one.  Perhaps the staff think that the Prairie Dog’s sharp claws are a strong enough deterrent for any would be thief….

Pop-up Prairie Dog at Wingham Wildlife Park

I’ve never really been a fan of the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs.  I’ve always thought their black faces made them look aggressive but today, I found out that I was completely wrong about them.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur

Not only are they extremely gentle creatures, but they also have a lovely but curious temperament.  One of the adults was so curious about my jeans that he actually bumped his nose against my knee.

Wingham Wildlife Park is a lovely little zoo but it has a long way to go by way of security measures and making it a centre of excellence.  I actually witnessed a girl remove the Black Headed Caique from its perch, despite signs requesting that the bird not be touched.  When I reported the incident to nearby staff, they retrieved the bird but seemed reluctant to remonstrate the girl for blatantly disregarding their notice.

In addition, given the amount of chicken and fowl that are simply allowed to roam freely around the park, I was surprised at the amount of cigarette butts lying on the ground for them to pick up.  I also have to admit to not being entirely comfortable about eating my food outside whilst surrounded by the same fowl. What happened to keeping animals and birds out of eating areas?

Royal Bengal Tiger Cub profile

The tiger cubs are clearly the big money spinner for the park.  Since their arrival, visitor numbers have just gone up and up. I will certainly revisit the park to see how Troy and Blade are progressing. Here’s to hoping that the security measures at the park are simply a work in progress and will improve.

Rusty spotted cat kitten peering from around a tree - very cute rare cat

Rare cats and even rarer kittens

Following on from their announcement of kittens, David and I were keen to return to the Rare Species Conservation Centre (RSCC) to see the new arrivals.  However, on Saturday, we timed things badly and as a result, didn’t get to spend as much time there as we wanted to.  I decided to rectify this by revisiting RSCC today, on my own.  The plan was to get down there as soon as they opened and to stay until closing time.

RSCC is home to many endangered and rare species of animals but today, it was all about their rare cats and even rarer kittens.  It was an amazing day and one that surpassed all of my expectations.  This was in large thanks to the amazing staff who were extremely helpful and let me know when it was feeding time so that I could maximise my photo opportunities.

I have so many favourite photos from my day with these incredibly beautiful rare cats and their impossibly cute kittens. My favourite feline has to be the lovely Pamir.

Slinky rare cat - the pallas cat

Pamir is the youngest daughter of Tula and Wei-Shand. She was born at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation last year and moved to RSCC in March 2011.  It is hoped that she and Genghis will breed at some point.  Pamir is such a sweet natured cat and I was so pleased to finally get a decent picture of her.

I could have happily stayed for hours with the Pallas Cats.  Pamir’s appearance made it very difficult for me to move on however, a little boy came to tell me that the Fishing Cat kittens had made an appearance, so I just had to go.

Have you ever seen a more sweet sight than that of 3 little Fishing Cat kittens sitting together?

Rare and endangered triplets - fishing cat kittens

These adorable kittens were born on 5th April so are 8 weeks old and as cute as a button.

Smiling fishing cat kitten

Like all kittens, they weren’t shy at all and even started to climb the fence so that they could look into my lens hood!  At that moment, I really wished I had a smaller lens on my camera or even my macro lens since that could have given me some interesting pictures.

Having fed and frolicked to their hearts’ content, the kittens were tired and needed their nap.

Kitten sleeping next to its father

I figured they would all be sleeping for a while so decided to leave them in peace and go grab some lunch.  Well, that was the plan until I saw that all the cats in the Amazonian area were out and about.

First up, we have the Black Footed Cat.  Native to Africa, the Black Footed Cat is one of the smallest breed of wild cats.  To give you an idea of how small they are, this male cat is just over a year old and is the same size as a 3 month old domestic kitten. This little guy is such a cutie and I just wanted to take him home with me.

rare cat: black-footed kitten

Next up, we have the Desert Sand Cats also known as the Arabian Sand Cat. These cats have the most amazing deep voice that belies their small frame.

Rare desert sand cat

I didn’t know it at the time, but the beautiful red jaguarundi was pregnant.

Female red jaguarundi stood on a rocky plateau

And here is the father. The jaguarundis come in two colours, red or gray. I hope the kittens get their mother’s looks!

Male gray jaguarundi resting on rocky plateau

By now, I was uncomfortably warm and in need of some fresh air so I left the area thinking to cool down by Short and Long Face, the juvenile Fishing Cats.

Juvenile fishing cats

It was lovely to see them so settled into their new enclosure complete with a stream for them to play in.

Juvenile fishing cat in green foliage

Kirgiz, the male Snow Leopard was trying to keep cool sitting on the rocks. As the temperature rose, he decided to retire to join his mate, Aida in their cool cave.

Snow Leopard lounging on rocks

As the day drew to a close, I headed back into the Amazonian area, determined to catch a glimpse of the elusive Rusty Spotted Cats.  I was not disappointed. This sweet little rusty spotted kitten was born on 25th April.  Isn’t he just the cutest thing you have ever seen?

Tiny kitten in a big world

As I said at the beginning of my blog post, I had an absolutely amazing day with more photo opportunities than I had hoped for.  If you would like to see more images of these beautiful rare cats and kittens, please see my gallery below. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of the image.

Cheeky marbled tree frog

Frogs and other Tropical Species

For my next foray into macro photography, we decided to have a go at photographing frogs, a chameleon, gecko and a toad.  I found the toad to be the most difficult to photograph as I wanted a decent reflection and had trouble getting the angle right.  I think I got there in the end though
 

Marbled Reed Frog

 

American Green Tree Frog

 

Yemen Chameleon

 

Gargoyle Gecko

 

Ornate Horned Frog

Lioness stretching on our south african safari

South African Safari

South Africa. Home of Kruger National Park and the famous White Lions of Timbavati.  Our destination for our South African safari was a tented lodge within the Timbavati region.

The last time David and I had been on a Big 5 Safari was nearly 10 years ago, on our honeymoon.  Back then, we were armed with a simple APS point and shoot.  Today, we would be bringing Canon DSLRs, L lenses and flash guns. Yes, this was going to be one serious photography trip.

Yellow Billed Hornbill

We had gone out with a certain “professional” photographer. The itinerary sounded different and very interesting – aside from the usual game drives, this tour offered night time safari drives and even an afternoon walk. The safari was very different, but sadly not in a good way.

Magpie Shrike

Despite the fact that we were there for four days, we saw lots of birds but very few mammals, not even buffalo.

Burchell's Starling as photographed on our south african safari

In fact, game viewing was so scarce that our organiser actually asked our guide if we could get out of the car and take a wander into the bushes.  Not the most intelligent suggestion made since if we were caught beyond our borders, this would result in a crippling fine for the owners of the lodge that we were staying at.

Hippo in water at sunset

We left the camp on our last day feeling very disappointed at the lack of animal sightings.  Had it not been for the sighting of six lionesses from the Caroline super pride on day three, our south african safari would have been a complete and utter washout.  What made things worse was that when we got home, we read that most other camps had had lots of animal sightings on a daily basis.

Lionesses photographed during our south african safari

However, there is a silver lining even to this bad photographic safari.  Since we got back from India last May, David had been pestering me to agree to go back to Kenya to photograph the Great Migration and I had been resisting.  This trip to South Africa and the lack of game viewing had whetted my appetite and I was now ready to go back to Kenya.  We’re now busy planning our trip for 2012!

Impala looking back

Eye of the Tiger

WHF Smarden

The WHF (Wildlife Heritage Foundation) was where David had his first proper nature photography lesson back in 2009, so it was only fitting that my first proper lesson was also here. My photo day was bought for me by David as a wedding anniversary present.

Since that day, we have been back to photograph the big cats and the little cats at WHF Smarden many times and in the process, have gotten to know both the cats and the wonderful volunteers who look after the place very well. It would be so easy to fill my blog with the photos that I have taken at WHF but I prefer to share a few images of some of my favourite cats.

Xizi an amur leopardess of WHF Smarden

Meet Xizi, an amur leopard. In the time we have known her, she has had three litters of gorgeous cubs. Her son, Argun, may be seen in the gallery below.

A Snow Leopard of WHF Smarden

Ranschan was my very first snow leopard and he remains my favourite. He wasn’t always obliging for the camera but when he was in the mood, he made a fantastic model.

Murphy the Snarling Cheetah from WHF Smarden

Murphy the cheetah, affectionately known as “Smurf” is a superstar when it comes to posing for the camera. He has the most amazing collection of facial expressions and it is all too easy to forget that he is not a domestic cat.

Clouded Leopard photographed at WHF Smarden

Ben the Clouded Leopard was a former resident of Santago until the rare leopards project was closed down following the death of owner and founder Peter James.  The loss of Peter is a huge blow to cat conservation – many of the big cats that can be found at WHF, Paradise Wildlife Park and other sanctuaries around the world were rescued by Peter. David and I were one of the last people to visit Santago before it closed in 2009.

Sumatran Tiger as photography by Pui Hang Miles at WHF Smarden

Nias the Sumatran Tiger has fathered two litters of cubs in the time that we have known him. Sumatrans are instantly recognisable by their slightly mad looking faces. You can read more about his second litter of cubs, Toba and Kubu here Kittens and cubs at WHF.

Eurasian Lynx at WHF Smarden

Petra is an ex-TV star. She was retired from the world of animal actors after she got a bit too playful on set. Considering photographers are actually allowed into the enclosure with her now, I think it would be fair to say that she has calmed down.

Snarling Puma from WHF Smarden

WHF Smarden is home to two puma sisters, Valentina and Viktoria. The former (pictured above) gives wonderful snarls whilst Viktoria likes to entertain her audience by jumping across water.

Juvenile fishing cat from WHF Smarden

Neptune the fishing cat came to WHF Smarden with his brother Aquarius and sister Angel as part of the deal that saw Pamir the Pallas Cat move from WHF to the Rare Species Conservation Centre. The timing of their move was quite fortuitous as their father had started to become intolerant of their presence and it was only a matter of time before he hurt one of the kittens.

Below is a gallery of more of my favourite images from WHF Smarden. I hope you enjoy looking at them and would love to hear your thoughts on my photos. As ever, click on a thumbnail to see a larger image.