This month’s animal is one that I have great difficulty capturing due to the location and make-up of their exhibit. Bonus fact: this is the only animal in either calendar who shares a name with anyone in my circle of friends: Luca. And, coincidentally enough, that Luca’s family (but not Luca himself) was with me the day I took the photo that found itself on the April page. Head spinning yet? In any event, I was touring the Zoo with the wonderful Franceschinis family (and Grandbanana…no, I’m not going to elaborate!) when we arrived at the jaguar enclosure behind the Mayan Temple Ruins area of the Zoo. Luca – the jaguar, this time – was lounging about on one of the platforms, which is not where I often find him. Furthermore, we were there at a time when the sun was in a perfect position in the sky: illuminating the exhibit brilliantly, but neither glaring off the slanted glass I was shooting through nor shining directly into the camera lens. It was a nearly perfect opportunity.
And suddenly…it got even better.
As I was snapping away, a group of kids from Zoo Camp went past the exhibit, walking along the service road exuberantly. This got Luca’s attention, and he suddenly lifted up his head to see what all the commotion was. After he watched the children for a moment, he swung his head around the other way and looked directly at me as if to say, “Uh….I was sleeping here! Why did you let that happen?” That shot is the one at the top of the page – the one that ended up in the calendar for April. The photo here at right was taken a short time later, when he had calmed down quite a bit and did not look nearly as alarmed. It’s also a picture I really like, but it was really no competition with the evident angst in his eyes in the eventual winner.
Luca has a twin sister named Zambucca. I have struggled mightily over the years in attempting to get a decent shot of the two of them together; you can see by the one I chose how difficult the enclosure is to shoot into, with extremely tight meshing on half of it and slanted or just thick glass on the rest. Now, about that “twin”: Zambucca obviously looks quite a bit different from her brother. This is because she received the melanistic colour morphism which is actually not that uncommon in the species. Often this black jaguar is referred to as a “black panther” although this is not technically correct; panthera is a genus of feline that includes tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars – the only big cats that are able to roar. The full name of the jaguar species is panthera onca which I am sure has something to do with the “black panther” moniker. Contrary to how they appear upon first glance, these melanistic jaguars are not entirely black; they possess the same rosettes on their fur as all jaguars do, but they are black on black and very difficult to see until you get much closer….which, as they are the largest cats in the Americas, you are not often likely to try to do. Incidentally, the easiest way to tell a jaguar from a leopard is by those very rosettes; unlike the leopard, the jaguars’ fur contains “spots within spots” whereas the leopard’s rosettes are relatively solid. If you look closely at Zambucca’s back in this next photo, you should be able to make out those rosettes.
These siblings will turn 13 this summer which you might think would make them – if you’ll pardon the expression – “long in the tooth”, but jaguars are among the longest-lived cats and we could reasonably hope these two may tack another decade on before they shuffle off this mortal coil. Because they are cats, and cats are exceptionally adaptable to weather extremes, you would ordinarily likely be able to see them all year ’round at the Zoo; however, the area they are in is gated off for large portions of the winter, as it is very difficult to keep clear of snow and ice and, in any event, these two would usually be the only two animals you would spot after the long walk to the Mayan Temple Ruins. But in the summer months, their area is really rather beautiful as it features a waterfall, several kinds of colourful birds, spider monkeys, these jaguars, and the ever-popular capybaras.
And even though this month’s page features Luca, I do have to admit I’m partial to his beautiful sister. It’s just that she is even more difficult to photograph than he is, mostly due to her extremely dark colour. But difficult is not impossible, so here are a few more of Zambucca – with one more of her brother thrown in for good measure.
Next month: a photo I took a few years back that I have been dying to share in one of these calendars, but it kept getting edged out in the past. It’s finally made the cut, and it’s spectacular. See you in May!