Tag: snow leopard

Big Buddy Goes Face To Face With A Tiger

The big cats at the Bronx Zoo have had a rough 2020 too.

First the zoo was shut down — along with thousands of other gathering places — due to the novel Coronavirus.

Then a tiger at the zoo got sick and tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first positive test for an animal in North America and the first recorded instance of human-to-tiger transmission. Seven other big cats at the zoo caught the virus, including four tigers and three lions.

Thankfully they recovered and everything — or almost everything — looked normal when I visited this week.

One of the awesome things about the zoo’s Tiger Mountain is that it has a trio of viewing ports that provide a prime view of a small pond where the tigers drink, swim and nap.

This tiger lounged in the distance for a few minutes, then got up and gave us a show.

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At one point the tiger came right up to the glass and looked at me:

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Standing three feet from a tiger is an experience, glass or no:

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Not as terrifying as Buddy’s visage, of course, but still something to behold.

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The lions were less welcoming. They were clumped up in the shade of an oak tree, snoozing without so much as a tail flick for motion.

Next was a snow leopard. This guy clearly didn’t deal well with a lot of humans gawking at him, and I could only snap a few shots before he retreated back up a hill in his enclosure, where the angle and brush gave him a measure of cover from human eyes.

I also saw him spinning in a circle repeatedly, a sign of zoochosis. I’m not an animal behaviorist and I’m not qualified to judge the work of the Bronx Zoo’s keepers, who obviously care a great deal for their animals. It’s just a reminder that even the best zoos in the world — with entire teams dedicated to things like enrichment and enclosure design — struggle to keep animals healthy and happy in captivity.

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Even though the name of their species sounds like an Italian dessert and they’re often mistaken for baboons, Gelada are old-world monkeys native to the grasslands of Ethiopia.

Geladas are the only primate species that are grazers: Up to 90 percent of their diet consists of grass and grass seeds. They’re easily recognizable by the hourglass-shaped furless patches on their chests, and they’re the only monkeys to form “herds” instead of troops, with an individual herd’s size swelling to more than 1,000 at a time.

When Geladas aren’t eating they’re grooming each other. Allogrooming, or social grooming, doesn’t just help monkeys keep their fur neat and free of parasitic bugs — it’s also a way of maintaining social bonds and reducing tension.

When I visited, I saw a male Gelada grooming a female. Female “heart patches” are usually more pale than their male counterparts, except when they’re in heat. So it’s probable that this scene is a bit of foreplay during mating season:

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A female on the rocks nearby. The enclosure features a series of cliffs surrounding central grassland, closely mimicking the species’ native habitat:

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This bird got within feet of the path adjacent to its exhibit, and its kind seem to have free reign within the park, as I saw another one hanging out in a wooded area earlier.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but he was very vocal and insistent about something:

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A group of zebras. I think they were sleeping. These four didn’t move a muscle, and zebras are one of a handful of species who can sleep while standing upright.

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A brown bear enjoys the warm weather, which topped out at almost 80 degrees. Another bear was nearby, taking a dip in the pool.

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And finally, a friendly reminder to the zoo’s visitors: Wear your masks! The zoo enforces an always-on policy for masks, which I think is a reasonable precaution. While masks may not be strictly necessary while strolling down the wide visitor paths of the zoo, viewing spots at popular exhibits can get crowded, and some of them are partially-enclosed.

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Can You Spot The Leopard In This Photo?

Most people know leopard spots afford the big cats excellent camouflage, but this is ridiculous. There’s a leopard in this photo. Can you see it?

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The viral photo has been making the rounds online over the past 24 hours. If you can’t find the leopard, don’t feel bad: I stared at the damn thing for 10 minutes until I cheated and looked up the answer.

Unfortunately it looks like the highest-resolution version of the photo that exists on the web is only 1280×720, so we don’t get the benefit of HD. Either way, this cat has an impressive ability to blend into its surroundings.

A search turns up quite a few similar photos, like this one of a snow leopard:

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See it yet?

How about now?

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Like all big cats, leopards are disappearing from the wild due to habitat destruction, hunting and cub-poaching.

Buddy’s Dark Materials

With a Game of Thrones-size void left in my TV-watching schedule, and shows I care about — The Expanse, The Last Kingdom, The Witcher — either between seasons or yet to debut, I’ve been watching HBO’s newest big-budget fantasy adaptation, His Dark Materials.

Based on a series by the British novelist Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials follows the adventures of Lyra, an 11-year-old girl living in a parallel world that resembles a steampunk version of Victorian England.

What sets the series apart, aside from its fantastical setting, is the prominent presence of animals. Lots and lots of animals. Animals everywhere: Rabbits, foxes and cats underfoot, hawks and eagles in the air, snakes slithering on the shoulders of their humans.

In Lyra’s world, the human soul isn’t a nebulous concept or incorporeal entity. Instead, each person’s soul takes the physical form of an animal.

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James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, whose daemon is a powerful and intimidating snow leopard named Stelmaria. Credit: HBO

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Stelmaria looks just like a real snow leopard, a credit to the show’s visual effects team, who had their work cut out for them with this adaptation. Credit: HBO

These animals — somewhat controversially called daemons in the books and series — are fully sapient creatures with the ability to speak, and they often serve as the conscience and voice of reason for their humans. The bond between humans and their daemons are sacred, the series informs us, and they cannot be separated.

The daemons of children can change form, taking the shape of virtually any animal, but upon adulthood each person’s daemon “settles” as a particular animal and no longer shifts. A daemon in its settled form, the series tells us, reflects the true nature of a person.

Nomadic people’s daemons often settle as hawks. Sneaky or evil characters have daemons who settle as snakes and insects. Protagonist Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, hasn’t “settled” yet in the series, and he’s been seen as a cat, a moth and a fox — among other forms — but he usually takes the form of a snow white ermine:

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Lyra (Daphne Keen) and Pantalaimon, the tiny ermine to the left. Credit: HBO

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Ruth Wilson plays Mrs. Coulter, whose daemon is a snub-nosed monkey. Credit: HBO

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Lin Manuel Miranda plays the roguish aeronaut Lee Scoresby, whose daemon is a rabbit named Hester. Credit: HBO

Of course, were I to occupy Lyra’s world, my daemon would be a massive and powerful tiger. I mean, let’s face it, no other animal would do me justice. 🙂

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Who would mess with me if I had my own tiger? Credit: Andrew James

Alas, I already have one, and his name is Buddy. While watching the show, I couldn’t help but notice the way the animals follow their humans is precisely the way my cat follows me. The show’s daemons are never far from their human counterparts, and straying too far away causes them pain. To hear Buddy yowl when I’m on the other side of the bathroom door, he feels the same way.

Unfortunately he wouldn’t be much help in a fight, but he’d be a hell of a wingman!

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“You’re never getting away from me, dude!”