I spent the day at Jungle Cat World near Bowmanville today. It's a small private zoo at Taunton Road and Highway 115/35 in Clarington County Ontario. There are those who are opposed to zoos, but seeing what these folks do, without government funding or "help" to preserve and help endangered species persevere makes me disagree.
Jungle Cat World is a nice place. It's definitely not a large metropolitan zoo, yet there is a fair bit of space allocated to the critters, and some, like the peacocks, walk around you while you walk. There's no real foot plan, you wander at your leisure. There are special behind the scenes packages available, but you can still get very close to the animals, and if the Siberian Tigers are in the mood, definitely be close enough for them to spray and share their enthusiasm with you. Jungle Cat World participates in global programs for animal welfare and breeding. Some animals are bred and are hand raised, others, like the leopards, are not, in keeping with repopulation goals.
Humans, having a propensity for arrogance bundled with stupidity, still work very hard to remove critters from the planet either through ignorance (poaching endangered Tigers for spurious health or sexual prowess elixirs), greed (poaching leopards for their skin) or brute stupidity (building tracts of subdivisions destroying natural habitat driving wildlife into suburbia so it can be cornered and shot - as happened this week in my town of Newmarket). People like those who run Jungle Cat World help to preserve endangered wildlife in the hopes of keeping species around, even after they have been eradicated in the wild. For example, there are less than 80 Amur Siberian Tigers left in the wild. There are four at Jungle Cat World where they have worked with other facilities to build successful breeding programs. It would be perfect if these cats could survive in the wild, but they cannot, because the humans where they live would rather kill them and harvest them for the expectation of cancer cures and stronger sex drive. Thus we need organizations like Jungle Cat World so there will be Amur Tigers in the future.
Um, isn't this a photography and videography site? Yes it is and making images of wildlife is something I really enjoy doing. The Behind the Scenes program takes the fence out of the way, and is a great idea, because in general shooting through fences produces a high failure rate. The way to do it is to shoot your lens wide open with a very large aperture and the animal hopefully far enough from the fence that the shallow depth of field causes the fence to vanish. If you are shooting in sunlight, the links are going to shine and that hope of blurring out is going to get dashed pretty quickly, so you shoot a lot moving to different positions in the hopes of getting a keeper. Sometimes it works, as it did in the header image of the white lion doing what it does eighteen hours a day, sleep. He did wake up long enough to consume two chickens, bedding down again shortly after.
Also endangered are the Amur Leopards. The pair I saw are not breeding at the moment but hopes are high. The light was not great and the fence did not help at all but you get a great sense of majesty from these cats. It bugs me that people kill them for their fur, skinning them where they fall, leaving the rest of the animal behind as garbage. I think that there needs to be a line of luggage finished in genuine human poacher skin.
Jungle Cat World has this thing called Wolf Tower. You climb up several flights of stairs to the top of what is realistically a watchtower. From this platform you can see over the fences into the wolf pens and also into a pen with a pair of lions. Given the expense of running an operation like this, it's a really great thing that they have built. It does tend to give you an elevated viewpoint, but with a longer lens and some perspective compression you can leverage the no fence capability and still get some decent images. Jungle Cat World keeps the enclosures busy with foliage as some of the critters are unnerved by people so you deal with the grasses and plants that can get in the way of that "perfect" shot.
The staff were all super friendly, helpful and quite knowledgeable. Many are area young people who have worked at the zoo since they entered their teens. It's plainly not a big paycheque job but they are very committed and it shows. The animals plainly knew Jocelyn, the young lady who led the feeding tour, and I spent some time talking to her alone by the big tigers and it was plain that they were happy to see her, coming up to the fence for an ear scratch and to play.
I don't think I hit it out of the park with any of my images today, but I got more than I expected out of my visit. Good people, doing good work and with a little effort on the part of the Photographer, an opportunity for some decent stuff. Since the fences do get in the way and since you cannot always use the shallow depth of field trick to make them disappear completely, I will say the the Clearview function in DXO Optics Elite 10 makes a serious impact on reducing the visibility of the out of focus fence highlights. All images were shot on a Canon 1Dx with the 100mm-400mm IS L lens, the original push-pull variant. It's really sharp, but tends to vignette, fortunately the Lens Correction in Lightroom CC fixes that right up. I also had to go to manual focus a fair bit simply because the fences kept tricking the AF. The standard focusing screen in the 1Dx is great for AF, but for manual focus, leaves a bit to be desired. One critter I shot many images of, none successful, was a black jaguar. Between his coloration and the fence, I got nothing. Black jaguars are on my "frustration list" because I have never gotten a good image of one and I think that they are beautiful creatures.
If you find yourself in the Bowmanville area, you should consider a visit, even if you forget your camera. Adult admission is only $15 and you are helping the animals out.