Today I got up close and personal with some very. large. cats.
Sculptor and podcast co-host Bridgette Mongeon is currently working on a sculpture of a panther for Prairie View A&M here in Texas. In an effort to learn all she can about panthers she contacted the Houston Zoo to see if she could get a sneak peak at their large cat collection as well as pick the brains of a few of the zoo keepers. She asked me to come along to photograph the cats in action.
Josh, a carnivore keeper at the Houston Zoo and our tour guide for the day filled our tiny brains with more information about these creatures than I believe I retained.
Each morning they give the cats “enrichment” items in an effort to keep them entertained and harness their natural tendencies and abilities. Today was live crickets and straw wrapped in brown butcher paper and drizzled with cow’s blood. Delish! This handsome fellow was quite intrigued, until the straw got caught on his tonge and he made quite a few funny faces.
(This picture of Ivy makes me giggle.) The other thing we learned is that there is a lot of confusion in the general world around the word panther. One of the cougars many names is Panther, but when people say panther they’re usually thinking of a large black cat, like the one above. Its also become very general, like saying here, look at this bird. It is not necessarily a species of cat, but instead has become a general term that is now commonly used to reference any kind of large species cat. Its probably derived from some species’ scientific names, such as the leopard which is Panthera Pardus. Panthera…Panther…you see?
Also there is also no such thing as a black panther, “because there has been no solid proof of melanistic cougars” as quoted from one of the carnivore keepers at the zoo. What people normally think of as a “black panther” is just a variety of cat which has such dark spots that it seems black. In the bright sunlight, that curly tailed little girl above was covered in black spots, the little trickster.
They also like to play. This happened so suddenly that I wasn’t able to change my shutter speed fast enough and they turned out a little blown out and blurry, still I love the energy in this shot.
Quick cougar (aka mountain lion) fact, the fur changes with the area they come from. This girl, Haley, is from the north (Iowa I believe) and she has a much puffier coat to deal with the winters. Her male counterpart is from this area of the country, his fur is much shorter.
I love the Houston Zoo, it brings back oodles of childhood memories. I used to know it like the back of my hand, where all my favorite exhibits and animals where and the best shady places to have lunch. This was the first time I’d been there in over six years and parts of it are completely foreign to me. They’ve done tons of renovations and added so many new exhibits, I honestly can’t wait until its a bit cooler outside so I can go back and explore.
Ok back to photos, this is the lion Jonathan, well he was just out and about and looking all regal and such so I snapped a few.
And this is by far my favorite image from the whole shoot. And that my friends is large cats at the Houston Zoo!
Operated by the not-for-profit Houston Zoo, Inc., the Houston Zoo is dedicated to conserving endangered species, to providing engaging educational opportunities, and to creating stimulating exhibits that broaden the experiences of its guests and encourage their curiosity. Visit www.houstonzoo.org for more information.