Four Exotic Cats and a Bear

Photos from a recent trip… and a story or two.

I know, a zoo seems so un-exotic, doesn’t it? When you’ve been to the tropics of Bali, the vast snowy Himalayas, and spent time spinning around the chaos of Kathmandu, going to see a bunch of animals in cages seems mundane. But since I am given to watching animals be animals, rather than just rushing past their cages to see “is he in there?” I tend to get more out of a zoo visit “than the a-ver-age bear, Boo-boo”.

We got there right at opening and sprinted to the big cats, since they’re most likely to be active then. Since I went with a photo-centric friend (who also brought the awesome lenses – Thanks Orion!) we got to skip the child whining, have to find a restroom, “I’m hungry, I’m tired” and bored, “are you done yet?”, “sure you don’t need a couple hundred more of that one cat?” spouses. All that tends to stifle a photographer’s need to be very still for the long, cat-lounging waiting game.

You might remember that I love cheetahs. Streamlined, majestic, muscled-but-furry, and kinda sad-looking (look at that face), how can you not love the nature-technology in this creature. The timeless determination in the cheetah’s face, says to me, “I know, but I’m still here.” Endangered, there are only about 5000 left in the wild. (More on that and a cool video here.) The best at race and chase, and a kitty all in one perfectly evolved package. Yep, gotta love it. And they chirp rather than meowing. I love that, too.


This is one of two 14-year old cheetahs that Woodland Park Zoo has on loan from Oregon right now. She was out doing her morning laps. 






The lion said so much without saying anything. I’ll tell you what he said, exactly: “This is me being patient. Ooooh, man, I hate waiting. Any minute though…”



I’m still waiting. This will be worth it.


Then the female, who was just several feet away, raised her head, got up and circled him. She bumped his forehead with hers, then walked back to her spot. He, having received the pertinent signal, got up and went over to her. Hey, it’s spring.
And then 
Yeah, the life of the king.


Random bear in here for good measure. His toes were irresistible.


A white wolf paused between two trees and looked at me.
And then back to cats. About 15 years ago I was in Belize (it was our honeymoon) and one of the activities we picked was to visit a jaguar preserve. Actually, I had planned all of our excursions during the whole trip with the jaguar preserve in mind. I desperately wanted to see them in the wild. We stayed in a tiny village (and were the only guests at our hotel for a week save two couples who came through on single overnights), and I’d picked it because it was close to the preserve. All the tourists towns were a full-day drive from it. So the day we headed in, I was ready to be enchanted. But before we even got into the preserve, the gate attendant told us that the road had washed out recently (even a day or two before, maybe) and it was a half mile walk over unstable, muddy ground to get across it. So we opted for a waterfall hike, unearthed Mayan ruins and a tour of a demolished sugar mill from the early 1900s instead. It was a good substitution, but I still really wanted to see a jaguar. Our hike began with our guide taking us down an unused trail. He wanted to get off the beaten path. He did. He spent much of the first leg of the hike slashing through thick jungle with a machete (cue scene from Romancing the Stone) so we could walk. Then when the path met a more heavily traveled one, we were back on a dirt track again. One of the first things we saw was a jaguar footprint, 3-5 hours fresh, from the guide’s estimation. I took a photo and my heart raced to think we crossed his path… and we weren’t even in the preserve. 
So in short, I love all the cats, but the jaguar, the largest New World cat, and the third largest cat in the world has a special place in my heart. There are about 10,000 of these amazing “fishing cats” left in the wild.
Here is Inka, the juvenile jaguar, just being herself. It was so much fun to watch her go.