Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019 and a brand-new calendar! A huge thanks goes out to all of you who purchased one (or more) of my 2019 calendars: together we raised $450 for the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, and I think that’s pretty incredible. As for the calendar itself: for this year I decided to return to the old days of just one calendar and not separate issues for babies and adults. There were many reasons for this decision, but the result is that the sole calendar I produced this year contains (with one exception) only photos I have taken in the calendar year 2018. I purchased a new camera kit and zoom lens just after Christmas, 2017 and the photos are vastly improved over previous years. It seemed as good a time as any to put aside all my old “calendar candidates” and start fresh. I’m hoping that the overall theme of 2019 is exactly that: “starting fresh.” We’ll see how that goes!
I have featured the snow leopards in my calendars before, although not nearly as often as I had thought now that I’ve looked into the past editions. I’ve only posted about them twice before: Ena was the very first featured animal in an “adult calendar” in January, 2017; and the cubs – Mylo and Kita – bookended things nicely when they were my “featured babies” in December, 2018. The reason I went back to Ena here for this January is a very simple one: on the right is the very first shot I took of her with my new camera on January 8, 2018. Now, I had many great shots of this beautiful animal before that day, but the difference in quality (crispness, colour, fence removal, depth-of-field) between the best of my previous photos and those I took with the new kit was absolutely mind-boggling. I knew I was pushing the limits of the technology of my old Rebel T3, but I didn’t know quite how much until I bought (and used) the T6i (and new zoom). I think I knew right then that Ena was going to be my January subject; in looking back, I can’t honestly remember a time when I considered anyone else.
The shot I chose for this month has a bit of a backstory. I took several shots of all three snow leopards on this day and one of them (not the one featured here) appeared to garner the most attention and likes when I posted the album on Facebook. A very good friend of mine, Hugh Palmer, loved a different photo so much that he reached out to me to purchase a 16×20 version of it from me. This is that photo:
Hugh stated that this was his favourite photo I had ever taken. A lot of people seemed to share his enthusiasm, but I joked at that time that I felt it was not only not my best photo ever, but not my best photo of that animal that day. I actually preferred the shot I used for January… that is, up until the day Sarah and I ventured up to Hugh’s house and saw his prize, beautifully framed and hanging in a place of honour in the dining room. I see the attraction now; isn’t it odd to learn that others have a greater appreciation of your art than you do yourself? I now think that Hugh’s purchase is the better photo, but I’m still pretty thrilled with the one I was able to put in the calendar. And to continue the backstory…
On the day in question, each of the three big cats had been given a large hunk of meat to chew on. Ena ate hers for a while, then began to stalk her offspring – either for fun or to get their food, too, I’m not really sure. In the photo Hugh has, she was running off toward Mylo, who had seen her coming and was pulling his food in the other direction. The shot itself doesn’t need this added information, as the action taking place is enough on its own. However, this month’s featured photo comes at the end of a sequence of shots I took of Ena stalking Kita, who was hunkered down in front of the den, seemingly oblivious to her impending fate. Ena crept up to just behind the plant in front of their den and poised to pounce. Then she caught wind of me (or perhaps the goats behind me, who really knows?) and this caused the following two poses:
…at which point Ena noticed me with my camera and decided I might be more interesting than the game she was playing. Not for long, though, as she was full of beans that day.
The shot at left here was taken in late March of 2018 and, although not a spectacular photo in its own right, represents one of my favourite moments I ever spent with this little family. On the day in question, I had come upon the exhibit from the front and, not finding any leopards visible, proceeded around to the view from the side of their “mountain.” When I got there, Ena appeared from my left and walked over to the screen you see in this photo. Already standing at the rail was another frequent visitor to the exhibit, a Member by the name of Carl. We nodded silently to each other, then watched Ena approach and sit down to observe us. I asked Ena (as I do) where her babies were, and Carl got my attention and pointed to a spot under a shrub at the very corner of the exhibit, where the two cubs were sleeping together. We spoke to each other very quietly about how cute they were, and how much longer they might all be together, and a few other snow-leopard-related things. All the while Ena sat there, turning her gaze from one to the other of us as we spoke in turn. Finally, she yawned, came right up to the fence, turned to present her other side to us, rolled over, and went to sleep. Her cubs are mere feet to the right of her tail, and she decided she trusted us enough that, not only did she fall asleep, but did so against the fence, with her exposed belly almost within reach of us. This one small act of abject trust was incredibly moving and underscored just how much my frequent and lengthy visits to the animals at the Zoo influences their attitudes towards me, and how that affects the photos I am able to take. It was a truly profound moment and I don’t believe I will ever forget it.
On the subject of how much longer they would be together, here is a photo I took of Mylo and Ena, lying together on their platform and taking turns grooming each other. This shot was taken on November 7, 2018. Not long after, I received word that Mylo had been separated from the two girls (due to approaching sexual maturity) and the three of them would – as far as I know – never be put together on exhibit again. This has proven to be a bit hard on Mylo at the beginning, as you can clearly see he’s very fond of his mom – and his sis, for that matter. I am certain that this separation anxiety will lessen as he matures, but for the time being I’ve found it difficult to venture over there too often. Once the snow starts to fly, I’m sure I’ll be a more frequent visitor. Meanwhile, I’m really happy I got to see them one last time snuggling together in plain view on that sunny day in November, and I look forward to that day in the future when a new mate arrives for Ena and we can begin anticipating another litter of adorable floof monsters.
That’s it for this month. As I often do, I’ll leave you with a collage of shots of Ena (all taken in 2018). Next month: a lovely shot of a rara avis that certainly had something to do with the multiple sales I made amongst the Keepers of the African Rainforest Pavilion this year! Thanks for continuing on this ride with me. See you in February!