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Lions, Tigers, and Bears Oh My
Actual lions. Not plush.
This summer I started snapping pics at a zoo. Can’t remember if I mentioned it before or not, but getting back into photography was one of my pandemic goals. I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you and answer a couple of questions.
The question I most often get is: “Do the animals pose for you?” followed by “Are you allowed to be inside their enclosure?”
No and no. Most of the time, there is a wall of glass that separates the animal ambassadors from visitors. I can’t control the clarity of the glass from either side; both animals and kids press sweaty noses and palms against it.
I often take pictures take in low light conditions with no flash, either indoors or in an outdoor “cave” where the animal is backlit. Sometimes, trees or bushes affect the shot. At the moment, I’m using point-and-shoot cameras and a cell phone. Partly, because a decked out rig is four figures and outside of my budget. Partly, because what I have still works.
I’ve learned the animal enclosures and surrounded structures are for my safety and for their well-being. The days of “riding the animals” have long since passed—for good reason. That’s not something we want to go back to. Unlike animals who are professionally trained for movies or the circus, these animals are part of a conservation and education effort that spans decades. Climate change, the pandemic, avian flu... All the things that plague us affect them, too. I was surprised to learn that zoos often grow flowering beds for pollinators, vegetables and edible flowers for the animals, and offer many, many forms of enrichment ranging from playful toys to meatsicles.
Everything the keepers do—well beyond the confines of my limited knowledge, mind you—centers the animals’ well-being. So, the pics I take are candid moments captured through that glass wall. Sometimes, there’s a reflection. Sometimes, I take hundreds of pictures hoping I’ll hit gold. Sometimes, I get lucky because I was in the right place at the right time. For me, this is the photography I love taking the most: candid and fluid with few circumstances staged.
I’ve also learned that all the stories about wild and wacky personalities at the zoo are true. It’s easy to look at a lion and be awed by their power and beauty. They also have personalities and quirks of their own. They’re not animated plushies, though, so yes they do poop and have sex and nap and have moods and all the other things living beings do. They’re also mischievous at times. I’m fond of red pandas and I’ve been trying to snap a decent picture of the newest arrival. Bandit has a door from his interior enclosure to the outside trees, and well... Let's just say I spent fifteen minutes chasing him back and forth, around a visitor’s wall, trying to capture his likeness and failing miserably that day.
I don’t know where your closest zoo is, but if you have the opportunity—pay them a visit. The keepers often give talks and there’s always some event going on. At the very least, the trip might bring you a bit of joy and, hopefully, remind you our world is a lot smaller and more connected than we might think.
Sometimes, listening to experts explain how and why our animal friends are also at risk from climate change and disease helps put things into perspective. Sometimes, that means understanding and recognizing you do happen to have more power than you realize, too, simply by making environmentally-friendly decisions, by volunteering, and by paying attention. You could start, right now, by downloading the PalmOil Scan Mobile App to see which companies are conscious of sustainability.
For more animal pics and other rewards, join Books of M on Patreon and help me get that better rig. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be knee deep in mud out in the wild somewhere waiting patiently for that perfect shot. That’s definitely one dream.
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