My first attempt at snow photography would be in the US and would be like no other trip we had ever done. Snow and sub zero temperatures would be the norm but we would be fulfilling another dream – to photograph wildlife in ice and snow.
I was so excited because our target species would be big cats, my favourite mammal.
I mean, where else would I get the opportunity to photograph an amur tiger running towards me in snow?
The snow gave us clean backgrounds which made our subjects simply pop.
Although, maybe not so much when the subject happened to be a siberian lynx in its winter coat.
The canadian lynx was easier as her pelt was grey/brown in colour.
The black panther was less than pleased to be out in the snow. She proved to be a challenge due to her colouring but we simply exposed for her and this seemed to work well.
For the gorgeous black fox, I decided to turn the image black and white to keep the image clean. Yes, I know the fox is not a cat but given the opportunity to do a spot of snow photography with other mammals, we jumped at the chance.
There was also the opportunity to photograph other species such as bears and wolves.
The wolf pack proved to be a lot of fun and provided us with many opportunities to capture their natural behaviour.
But for me, the highlight was hearing the whole pack howl in response to the alpha female’s call. So hauntingly beautiful and such an honour to hear and witness.
If you would like to see more images from this trip, please check out my gallery below.
Le Parc des Felins is home to over 25 species and sub species of the 36 feline species in the world. At over 60 hectares, the park which is located in the magnificent woodland estate of la Fortelle, is simply enormous.
The park comprises of 5 zones, with the 140 cats that live in very large natural enclosures divided up into the 4 continents from which they originate. The fifth zone/continent is dedicated to the lemurs of Madagascar (well their latin name does contain the word “cat!”).
Whilst I had the opportunity to photograph every species in the park (and I did), I am only posting up my favourite images so not all species will be represented with an image.
Le Parc des Felins is home to both species of the Asian Golden Cat – grey green and red gold. These cats are normally very shy and this is the only time I have managed to successfully capture an image of them.
One of the huge attractions of the park is their large collection of White Tigers. These stunning creatures do not exist in the wild. Nor are they a species in their own right. The white coat is a result of in-breeding and their population has been carefully maintained for the last 60 years by man.
The Malayan tigers live in the largest tiger enclosure in the world at 3.5 hectares. They have the most stunning face – not as mad as that of the Sumatran but not as soft as those of the Bengal or Amur tiger.
Dinah, the year old snow leopard cub was a huge draw for the photographers and boy did she know it! She still acted and played like a cub, pouncing on her mother, playing with branches and rolling down the mound, providing everyone with some great photographic opportunities.
The Sumatran tiger is distinguishable from all other species of tiger by the fact that they have webbed feet and their beautiful faces have a slightly mad look.
One of the main reasons for visiting Parc des Felins was because another of the WHF Pallas Cat kittens had moved here – Pamir’s older sister, Ulan Bator. It’s been over a year since I last saw Ulan Bator and any ideas of easily identifying her were quickly dashed when I realised that there were two female Pallas Cats in the enclosure!
The park has 2 enormous Amur Tiger enclosures. One is home to a family of 4 and the other holds a second breeding pair. Natalya is the matriarch in the family group and was sadly, wild caught in Russia.
The Africa zone is home to two different species of lion, African and Angolan. I watched with much interest as one of the Angolan lionesses started a roaring match with the African lionesses before settling down to sleep once she had wound them up good and proper.
This adorable kitten is a Gordon’s Wildcat and one of a litter of two kittens. The timing of our visit turned out to be impeccable as the park was full of cubs and kittens.
The Persian Leopard enclosure is huge with tall trees thus allowing the leopards to hide out in the tree branches, just as they would in the wild.
Conscious that we still had one last zone to visit, we didn’t spend as much time in the African zone as I would have liked, but the jaguars in the American zone more than made up for this.
The breeding pair had had a litter of two the previous year and whilst they were technically no longer cubs, they were still cute and behaved more like cubs than sub adults.
The Puma enclosure is just lovely. It’s spacious with plenty of trees for the five Pumas to climb and chase each other in and made for some wonderful backdrops in which to photograph.
The female Geoffroy’s cat was very relaxed, unlike her mate who paced endlessly. I got tired just watching him.
The original plan had been to leave le parc des felins at around 5pm in order to ensure that we made it back to Calais on time to catch our train. Based on how long we spent in the park yesterday, we decided to stay in the park til closing time and then rush back. If we missed the train that we were booked on to board, then we would simply get a later one. As luck would have it, we actually made it back in time to board our train!
The Rare Species Conservation Centre is a fantastic little sanctuary located just outside of Sandwich, Kent. Formed in 2006, the centre is dedicated to preserving the world’s lesser known rare and endangered species of animals which are often overlooked by the bigger and more mainstream zoos.
The volunteers were extremely friendly and well informed about the animals in their care. It was also obvious that everyone there was passionate about conservation.
Todd’s announcement of the closure of rare species conservation centre was met with much dismay by all its supporters. Not surprising considering what an amazing place it is. I guess Todd must have been overwhelmed by all the messages of support because much to our delight, he promised to open RSCC one last time so that people could come back to say goodbye.
I only learned of the place back in April and I have loved every visit I made there.
It’s not the biggest of zoos but it was unique in that there is no other zoo in the country where one had such easy access to newborn animals. Had it not been for Todd and his staff, I would not have photographs of Fishing Cat kittens or a Rusty Spotted Kitten growing up. It was also home to Pamir, a Pallas cat who I’ve watched since she was a kitten at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation.
As a photographer, the rare species conservation centre was a dream location. The keepers always made a point of letting me know which animals they were feeding to allow me to gain the best photo opportunities and on occasion, they even fed some of the cats early in order to help me get the pictures I wanted. Nor will I ever forget the countless hours I spent on my knees gaining the trust of the young kittens.
We arrived around 11am and from the notice on the door, saw that the collection was much reduced. Of the animals that I loved, the only ones that still remained were the juvenile Fishing Cats, the Rusty Spotted Cats, the Black Footed Cat, the Desert Sand Cats and the Jaguarundi.
Below is a selection of some of my favourite images from the summer. Click on an image to see a larger version.
I am going to miss the antics of Ping, the smooth coated otter and the crazy boky bokys, but most of all, I will miss the fishing cats kittens and the rusty spotted baby. I had had the privilege of watching from when they were 5 days old to 5 months old and the thought of not being able to watch them grow to adulthood filled me with sadness.
I was also going to miss Short Face and Long Face – as the first Fishing Cats I had ever photographed, they held a very special place in my heart. It has been an absolute pleasure watching them grow from juveniles into beautiful and powerful adults. Sure, I could visit them in their new homes but they would not be as accessible as they had been.
Farewell rare species conservation centre, I will miss you and its residents.
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.
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?
These adorable kittens were born on 5th April so are 8 weeks old and as cute as a button.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the beautiful red jaguarundi was pregnant.
And here is the father. The jaguarundis come in two colours, red or gray. I hope the kittens get their mother’s looks!
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.
It was lovely to see them so settled into their new enclosure complete with a stream for them to play in.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Port Lympne big cats have always been a huge attraction so when they announced the birth of 2 Amur tiger cubs on 27 June 2010, visitor figures rocketed. We had hoped to visit when the cubs made their first public appearance, however, due to various other commitments, we didn’t actually make it down there until today. The cubs, little sisters called Zaria and Roza were approximately 19 weeks old by this point but they were still small and incredibly cute.
Their mother Ingrid Alexandra, was named after the Princess of Norway.
We spent a wonderful hour watching the cubs play and Ingrid delighted us when she decided to give one of her girls a bit of a wash. The interaction between mother and cub was just precious.
The cubs eventually collapsed in a heap from exhaustion – have you ever seen a more sweeter sight than this?
With the cubs fast asleep and their parents also settling down, we decided to go and visit Port Lympne’s pride of magnificent Barbary Lionesses. The Barbary Lion is also known as the Atlas lion as they used to roam the Atlas Mountains. Personally, I prefer to believe that they were named for the ancient Titan Atlas, doomed forever to hold up the sky as punishment for siding with his fellow Titans against the Olympian gods.
We spent far too much time with the tiger cubs so by the time we got to the snow leopards, the light was starting to go. I managed to grab a record shot before it was time to leave the park.
I guess we will have to come back to see the rest of the Port Lympne big cats and also pay a visit to their smaller cousins, of which there are quite a few here.
The Cat Survival Trust in Welwyn was formed in 1976 to work for the conservation of endangered species of wild cat. This small cat sanctuary is the only British charity devoted to the care, rescue and conservation of wild cats as well as the preservation of their natural habitat. This is a just a small selection of the cats they are currently looking after.
The cat with three names – puma, cougar and mountain lion.
This is Ess. She is an African Serval who was illegally imported into this country and kept in a bathroom! This beautiful cat had also been cruelly declawed. Contrary to popular belief, a cat’s claw is not like a human toenail, it is closely adhered to the bone. The process of declawing is akin to amputation since it involves the removal of the last joint in a cat’s toe. So for those who think it is a “humane” process, it isn’t. It is cruel and an unnecessary mutilation from which recovery is both long and painful.
In June 2010, three gorgeous snow leopard cubs were born at the sanctuary. Sadly, by the time we got there, one little cub had not survived. Snow leopard cubs are normally born premature. In their normal habitat, this isn’t an issue, however, here, in the height of summer, the cubs had a fight on their hands simply to stay alive in conditions that was simply too damp and humid for their not completely formed lungs to cope with. During a power cut, one of the dehumidifiers failed which culminated in the death of one cub and another coming down with pneumonia. Happily, this little one is pulling through well.
The African Caracal has to be one of the prettiest cats in the world with their delicate structure, beautiful blue eyes and fantastic bat-like ears. The Cat Survival Trust is home to a family of three of these gorgeous felines.
I hadn’t expected to see a Pallas Cat here so it was a very pleasant surprise to have one that posed so obligingly for us.
This photo of the Amur Leopard was taken with my iPhone 4 as the cats kept coming too close thereby making it impossible to take a photo with my camera. What do you think of the results?