Thursday, August 8, 2013

Big Cats and their eye wear

Not so long ago I posted a piece about photographing big cats at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation, you can in fact see that very post right here.

What I didn't include was what I got up to after I'd taken all the usual shots of the usual cats in the usual poses. Looking for something different, I waited until everybody else had left and asked the keepers if I could get some pictures of their charges just kicking back and relaxing, as they would when not on display to the general public.

They were more than happy to accommodate my request for some reason, so with the place to myself, I visited each cat in turn, to capture a more informal side to them. What I didn't realise before I set off, and was a total surprise to me, was that they all either enjoy using, or have need of, some kind of eye wear.

Apparently all big cats have this penchant for glasses, I had no idea! One of the keepers explained to me that because in the wild they often find it very difficult, sometimes verging on the impossible apparently, to get the styles they favour, they prefer not to wear any at all.

Add to that, the fact that wildlife film makers are so loath to show them sporting spectacles, and have been actively trying to keep it quiet for many, many years, yes I'm looking at you Mr. Attenborough. Means it all adds up to the public at large being completely ignorant of how much eye glasses feature in the lives of these majestic, not to say, style conscious animals.

Thankfully, in places like the WHF, these fortunate beasts have ready access to an ample selection of glasses. It turns out, that one of the first things they do when bringing in a new cat is to take them to what they call the Eye Wear Station, or EWS for short. This is a largish building located towards the rear of the site that houses all manner of eye wear, along with obligatory consultation rooms and fitting stations.

It's in the EWS that the creatures spend a lot of their initial time in the park, perusing the presentations on display, trying various pairs on, checking the pros and cons of each, until they find the perfect match. This can take some time, as anyone who wears glasses will tell you, it's not all about fit and comfort after all, it's as much about attitude and the image you wish to project about yourself to others.

Once this is accomplished they are then ready to enter their cages with confidence. Of course the one caveat is they remove the glasses when visitors are around. Thanks to the professional conspiracy of silence regarding this age old behavior, it is thought the public would be perplexed and confused to see this, so the cats, sadly, have to comply.

But I am proud to say I managed to capture this rarely seen behavior, and I present it to you, not as some kind of freak show, but as a way of learning and appreciating more about these complex and sometimes dashing animals.

Looking rather splendid, this lion actually needs these glasses so he
can see what he's eating. It's not a well known fact, but lions actually
cannot abide lumps of gristle.
Unfortunately this cheetah has trouble attaining much speed when wearing his, as they jump and jostle
around before inevitably falling off, but for some unfathomable reason he refuses to change styles.
You cannot account for some creatures taste.
The Eurasian lynx doesn't actually have deficient vision, but as is the 
way for many of these curious beasts, she just enjoys wearing them.
Felinologists still don't fully understand why.
Subtlety may not be her strong point, but this Amur leopard shows the rest of us how to carry off
leopard print sun glasses with aplomb.
This poor clouded leopard is practically blind without his glasses, and as
he spends most of the time living up high, it's imperative that he wears
them to help minimise slips and falls. Unfortunately for him, he
happens to be a bumbling incompetent as well, which is a shame.
This fishing cat spends a great deal of time by or in the water, which is why contact lenses were 
just not an option.
Going for the wrap around style, this serval struts around as though
he owns the place, apparently his attitude is not popular among the
other cats.
At only 3 years of age, this young Sumatran tiger has absolutely no use for these reading glasses. Staff
have tried suggesting he try something more suitable, but he refuses to even consider it. This wouldn't
be so bad in itself, but he also insists on pretending to be quite deaf, and won't stop going on about
how things were better in the old days, despite not knowing a single fact about them.
This rather intimidating feline is actually scared of most things, but uses the glasses to make him
seem more fearsome. I told him they look a bit like girls glasses, hence the evil stare I'm getting. 
This black leopard has a sign emblazoned with the phrase 'Too cool for skool' on his cage. And whilst I was
there he tried to hustle me for lunch money.
Despite being on the shy side, this Chinese leopard cuts a debonair figure with his aviator shades.
Although what use he had for the driving gloves is beyond me.
Last but not least, and despite his aristocratic appearance, this
graceful old snow leopard was a was true gentleman, and more 

than happy to show me around his enclosure.

I hope you have enjoyed this small peek into a world not often seen, and it has enabled you to see another side to these fearsome, yet sometimes puzzling creatures. 

Just as a side note. No animals were harmed during this photo shoot, any behavior you see is entirely natural and in keeping with how they would instinctively behave in the wild.

A big thank you to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation for letting have such privileged access to these wonderful animals.

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