Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – February Story


Lindy (L) and Jerroh – true brotherly love

If you're reading this post, congratulations: you've survived January 2016! What a month that was. Aside from all the stunning deaths in the entertainment world, it seemed to me that virtually everyone in my quite-extended circle of friends had periods of varying length where they were going through really rough times. In my own case, the month began with wicked colds that knocked Sarah and me off of our feet for a few days; once I had more or less recovered, I had a few days of peace and then a crash into near-depression seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe there's something to this "Mercury retrograde" thing after all.

....nah. It's just January, typically the "bluest" month of the year in the upper northern hemisphere. There's a reason Bell's "Let's Talk" day comes in January.

But that was last month. It's over. You made it. And this month? Well, this month features my favourite image of the 13 included in this year's calendar. 


You can be forgiven if you think the beautiful tawny lions in February's photo are a loving, mixed-gender couple. In fact, I kind of counted on that possibility when I chose to place this picture opposite the month of Valentine's Day. But the truth is they are 15-year-old brothers, born at the Toronto Zoo on July 14, 2000. They were the second and third cubs for dad Rowdy and mom Nokanda; older brother Simba had already been transferred to Parc Safari in Quebec where he has been a fairly prolific father himself. Lindy and Jerroh were the most recent cubs to have been born at the Toronto Zoo prior to the arrival of our four little white bundles of joy last September. Rowdy was a much-beloved lad who lived to the ripe old age of 20; he passed away in 2011 only two months after his adoring partner Nokanda died in August of the same year. And, as you can see from the above-left photo, Nokanda was a beautiful white lioness. 


Because there isn't nearly as much demand for male lions in Zoos across North America as there is for females – and because Lindy and Jerroh were the second and third of an incredible seven male cubs born in Toronto this millennium (with nary a girl in sight) – the decision was made to keep the happy family together as a unit. This necessitated the neutering of the two boys so they would not grow up to "challenge" their father. I have received conflicting information as to whether Lindy's castration was slightly too late to completely ward off puberty, or whether it didn't "take" 100%, or if there is some other reason, but Lindy managed to grow a "mini-mane" before its progress ceased. It's not nearly as magnificent as his dad's (nor, for that matter, the Zoo's current white lion patriarch, Fintan) but it's clearly enough to be able to tell the two boys apart. They grew up to be quite large for their species and have always been very close to each other, by all accounts.


Ever since the young white lion pride arrived in 2012, Lindy and Jerroh have shared time with them in the public exhibit, The "cuteness factor" gave the whites prime-time exposure for the most part; on the infrequent occasions I have seen these two old boys on display I seem to have kept my camera at my hip, as I can't find very many shots of them in my collection. On this particular sunny January afternoon last year, as Sarah and I entertained our young cousin at the Zoo and showed her around the African savanna mostly for the exercise, I wasn't sure we'd see any of the magnificent big cats in our lion collection. It seemed especially unlikely once we had approached the front of the exhibit and found the heated den to be devoid of any feline presence. I am fairly certain we assumed at that point that they were all in the "house", or perhaps in transition from one grouping to the other. We briefly scanned the visible area and then moved on through the tunnel that splits the exhibit, toward the rest of the savanna. I hadn't even taken my camera out of its sling bag, which is....well, let's just say I really should know better. As we passed through the tunnel I suddenly spied a burst of beautiful golden fur through one of the windows on my right. I took in my breath as I looked more closely and saw the two brothers sitting up high on the hill behind their den – but not high enough as to be seen from the front viewing platform – cuddled up together with a glorious blue sky behind them. I cursed my unpreparedness under my breath, hoped against hope that they would not move from that spot while I fumbled through my sling bag and changed lenses to my zoom, pressed my camera up against the window, and began to shoot.


Most of my best photos are gathered by what I like to call "brute force photography". There are many camera enthusiasts out there who are much more technically proficient than I am – many of them in my peer group, actually – but where I think my main talent lies is in patience and sensing what an animal might do next from many hours of observation. You'll read a lot more about that in later months; however, for all the times I need long hours and diligence to get the shot I really want, every now and then a chance will come along where a classic shot will just fall into my lap, with absolutely no preparation or work on my part, through nothing but dumb luck. This was one of those times. From the time I spotted the pair until my last squeeze of the shutter release I'd be very surprised if four minutes passed, including the time it took for me to get my sh—er, "kit" together to shoot the scene. And when I had taken the last photo, I looked down at the screen on the back of my camera, reviewed what I had fallen backwards into, and declared to Sarah, "Well, that's February taken care of for next year. Just need 11 more shots and a cover." It was obvious to me in that instant that I wasn't going to find a better photo for February in the next 10 months. And I never did. When it came time to choose the pictures for this year's calendar (back in September), I put the photo at the top of this page in the February slot and never touched it again. That's just the way it goes, sometimes. Some very, very lucky times.

If you bought the calendar, I thank you once again. Either way, if you enjoy these stories of the process of putting it together – with all the extra photos – please check back on the first of each month. I will do my very best to have a new post ready to go to coincide with the turning of each page!


BONUS MATERIAL FOLLOWS! 

I mentioned our "four little white bundles of joy" earlier in this post. On September 26/27, 2015, our white lioness Makali gave birth to four male cubs (two late on the 26th, two more early on the 27th). There are lots of amazing and heart-melting photos and videos of their early days on the Zoo's website, but this is far and away my favourite to date. In mid-December, Staff and Volunteers finally got a chance to see them in person; on December 19th, they made their public debut on a cold and windy Saturday. Makali has been an unbelievably patient mom to this point, especially as this is her first litter and four boys must be a handful for any parent at one time. Rumour has it that we're hoping for a March Break "unveiling" of the whole happy family (including dad Fintan and perhaps even Auntie Lemon) in the actual exhibit itself. Up to this point, the as-yet-unnamed cubs have only been viewable in the outdoor area of their barn, which had been set up with a radiating heater and special windows for the occasion. The windows/fencing combination – coupled with the lack of depth to the play area (meaning the cubs are always fairly near to the fence) – has made for some less than brilliant photo ops. but I've added a couple of shots here just for fun anyhow. Enjoy!











2 comments:

  1. Great read, hon. I can't wait to see the white lion family in the big display area!

    ReplyDelete

I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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