Friday, January 28, 2011

Wild Life (Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, NY)

Keeper feeding lemurs during a publicity photo shoot.

A couple days ago I went to the zoo.  By myself.  I've always loved zoos, and I've taken the kids to zoos any number of times, but I've never gone alone before.  The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY, is having a winter photography contest with a local radio station, and just for fun I decided to see if I could get any good pictures.  I could stand and watch the animals for hours anyhow, but going with kids isn't conducive to animal watching (or photography), since the kids usually want to move on after a minute or two of looking.  This was the first time I could go and just stand and watch the animals for as long as I pleased.  It was wonderful.

I don't know if I'll submit any of these for the contest.  (Each person can submit two photos to this contest.)  I'm not sure any of them are really "winner" material.  I saw a couple other photographers at the zoo while I was there, and their expensive, high-powered digital cameras with mega-ultra-closeup lenses and enough digital power to run NASA made my little Kodak digital look positively wimpy.  But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The zoo was very quiet, and almost empty, except for a handful of adults, a couple pairs of moms with strollers out for a walk, and one preschool field trip that was easy to avoid (that's not the kind of wildlife I was looking for).  I was just as interested in the winter forms of rocks and trees as I was in the animals.  I got one picture of reindeer antlers on a pole - the image really struck me as I walked by.

The animals were pretty active outdoors, many of them being creatures from temperate to mountain to sub-arctic climates.  It was just around freezing - not too cold, although I was glad I wore my boots.

I especially liked watching the Amur tiger, one of my favorite wild animals.  It was hard to get good shots of him, for although he was quite active that day, the only visual access into his habitat was through large glass windows, which were not only slightly tinted (I don't know if they were one-way glass) but very, very smudged with hand/finger/noseprints from countless kids.  Still, watching the tiger roam, claw a tree, and even hearing him vocalize was a real treat.

The markhor antelope were just as interested in me as I was in them.  I don't know if it's because my winter coat is bright red, or if they were just bored silly and any distraction was a welcome one, but they came down their simulated "mountain" slope to get a closer look at me. 

Some of the animals looked like they were just enduring winter, waiting for warmer weather.  Because the temperature was reasonable, the lions were out that day.  They looked seriously out of place in the snow, and they were all sleeping close together on a bed of hay right beside the window to their habitat.  That's the closest I've ever been to a lion, perhaps 10 inches through the glass.  I don't like the lion habitat at this zoo, though - it's too small for three adult lions.  It just looks wrong to me, even though I'm sure the big cats are well cared for.

I spent quite a bit of time in the tropical aviary indoors.  I love the aviary, and it was so nice to be the only one in there.  Many of the birds were up near the roof (where it was warmer), but quite a few were active lower down.  I had a lot of fun imitating some of their calls and getting them to "talk" back.  I wish I'd written down which birds I photographed, because when I went back to the zoo's website to check them out, I discovered that the website isn't up to date with their aviary collection.  Nuts.

Another fun thing was seeing the zoo's newest member, a baby Patas monkey born on January 7th.  I talked with one of the keepers, who said they weren't positive, but they think it's a male.  The mom, Addie, still keeps the young one close to her at all times, but I was amused to see that he was busily engaged in expanding his horizons by trying to creep out of her embrace.  He'd gain a few inches, and she'd hug him back.  He'd try again, and the long arm of his mom would snag him before he'd gone 6 inches.  It was really cute to watch.  I didn't use a flash for those pictures, because I wasn't sure if that would bother him - hence the slightly grainy quality of the pictures I got.

I've always loved watching birds.  At the zoo I was delighted to see a number of them at close range, without gaggles of noisy kids to spook them.  I got a great shot of a peregrine falcon by holding my camera at an angle near the mesh so that you can't see the enclosure itself, just the bird - it looks like he's right in front of me, even though I was standing behind the fence and wire and just holding the camera at arms' length.

I also got a shot of the Andean condor taking a short hop from his perch to the ground.  His wingspan is amazing (10 feet or more!), and he's a gorgeous bird.  I really wish I could have been closer to his habitat, but the fence for that was considerably farther away from the enclosing mesh. The sound his wings made with just that little hop was wonderful.

This Eurasian lynx was totally ignoring me.  Such a gorgeous animal!  Again, I wish the enclosure for the lynxes were much larger.  It pains me to see captive wild cats in such small spaces.  In fact, keeping wild animals in captivity is a balancing act for all concerned - the welfare of the animals, and the preservation and propagation of the species, have to be balanced against the very real space and budget concerns by the institutions housing them.  Very few zoos have the luxury of a large enough budget to have expanded housing for every species that would benefit from it.  The Rosamond Gifford Zoo does a great job with the resources it has.  They're currently expanding and updating their Asian elephant exhibit, which I look forward to seeing this summer when it's finished.

When I was a kid, I really, really wanted to be a zookeeper or a zoo veterinarian.  I still think I would have enjoyed that career path.  Now I'll enjoy being a supporter of the good zoos in my area, and I'll look for the best in any other wildlife centers or zoos I visit.

When was the last time you went to the zoo?

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