07.10.22: Snow leopard in zoo

Modern zoos foster wildlife and science education by providing the public with opportunities to learn about various animals and the care they require. 

Zoos important, but I still have mixed feelings

My wife and I like to visit zoos during our travels. We enjoy seeing a variety of animals, including some that we’ve never seen before.

But I alway get mixed feelings when I see an animal, like this snow leopard in the Toledo Zoo, in a zoo setting. 

The snow leopard area at the Toledo Zoo, like most animal areas in modern zoos, is designed to motivate normal (i.e., non captive) behavior by the animals, part of an effort by zoos to provide enriched habitats for animals. There are rocks to climb and space to roam. 

That’s much better than the small cages that housed zoo animals in past decades. 

But there are still walls and moats that restrict just how far the animals can roam. The have space, but not freedom.

Modern zoos foster wildlife and science education by providing the public with opportunities to learn about various animals and the care they require. They are also important in protecting and preserving endangered species and rehabilitating injured animals. And the move toward enriched habitats have greatly improved life for the animals. But the animals are still captive and often suffer from stress, boredom, and confinement caused by a life behind bars.

Thus the mixed feelings.

Snow leopards in the wild live in some of the harshest conditions on the planet: the snowy, steep and rocky mountains of Asia. Their white, gray and black spotted coats blend with the surroundings, making them almost invisible. They are often referred to as the ghost of the mountains.

But the snow leopards are listed as a species vulnerable to extinction. Poaching and illegal trade in skins has reduced the population to fewer than 10,000 remaining in the wild.

I was pleased that this photograph has an “in the wild” feel to it instead of an “in a zoo” feel. There’s no fencing or other obstructions in the shot.

A zoo visit provides opportunities to photograph unusual animals, but getting quality photos is challenging. It's often more difficult for me to get quality photos at a zoo than it is in the wild.

It seems like it should be the other way around. After all, I know exactly where the animals are at a zoo. There are maps and signs. Can't miss 'em. Just walk up to the pen and start shooting.

Except there are often high fences to shoot through. Or glass walls. And crowds of people. And the animals tend to seek shelter far from the viewing areas.

The best chance for success is to carry a long lens, spend time walking around the exhibits to find positions that provide clear line-of-sight to the animals and hope for some luck. 

A snow leopard rests in the Toledo Zoo, Toledo, Ohio.

A snow leopard rests in the Toledo Zoo, Toledo, Ohio.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 17, 2018 2:38 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM 
  • Focal length: 330mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1000 second
  • ISO: 1000

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