Yellow Eyes

The focus of this review is on a book that I read as a child, picked up in my grade school library because the cover caught my attention. It was also my first introduction to mountain lions. Yellow Eyes, originally published in 1937, by American writer Rutherford George Montgomery is a fictional story of a young cougar called Yellow Eyes who is orphaned along with his litter mates when a hunter kills their mother. The book follows Yellow Eyes from a young kitten to an adult cougar as he fights to survive and escape the hunter called Cougar George who relentlessly pursues him after a pack of hunting dogs kill his siblings.

Getting my hands on a copy of the classic and rare book was quit a challenge but the public library was finally able to locate it and have it transferred to Toronto from the University of New Brunswick. Although this is considered a kids book Montgomery writes in a style that is often brutally honest recognizing that kids really do understand more than they are given credit for. I recall finding some of the realism shocking when I first read it and now as an adult I can see that the story is not all fiction and could be somewhat based on the actual historical accounts of the persecution of the species, and extermination campaigns, by government and the first settlers.

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This is the paperback copy that I read as a kid, the cover image changed over the years to this stereotypical and fierce image of a cougar. It seems to be the standard cover for printings in the 70’s and onward.

As a kid I was unaware of trophy hunting, but this book made a huge and lasting impact on me in that regard as I instinctively knew it was wrong. The story of Yellow Eyes deeply saddened me, I remember crying at some parts, but I also found myself cheering for him as I turned the pages. Early on the book says that his kind was considered nothing more than “varmints to be slaughtered”, but I could not understand the hatred and cruelty directed towards these animals by humans who enjoyed causing so much suffering

The about the author page in the book says that as a child Rutherford Montgomery had listened to stories told by hunters, but that he was a “watcher, not a hunter” so it is very likely the stories he heard growing up influenced this book from the human perspective.  Montgomery takes the reader on step further and into the mind of Yellow eyes so we also get to see what happens from his perspective. The book does anthropomorphize parts but this functions as a way to create a sympathetic connection between reader, Yellow Eyes and the harsh world he lives in.

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Early hard cover version of the book portrays Yellow Eyes in a more neutral and less threatening manner.

There are many themes in the book that can be considered relevant today. Besides the condoned extermination campaigns there is the acknowledgment that man had “waged a ruthless ware” against predators like cougars, coyotes and the wolf. We see Yellow Eyes through hunter Cougar George his sworn enemy and, we are introduced to a more sympathetic character who understood the animals and role they played in nature, a Native American man named Treon who wants to help Yellow Eyes survive. Yellow Eyes learns that not all humans are like the hunter and the two develop a mutual respect for one another.

Through Yellow Eyes we see the struggle of his kind and we also see his joy at finding a mate, the sorrow of losing her and their kittens. The harshness of life teaches him to be strong and smart which earns him the reputation of a cunning and fierce animal. Are his experiences and instinct enough to help him survive in a world that humans are rapidly encroaching on? For that answer and more, you will have to read the book.

Although out of print Yellow Eyes should be available from your local library or online from rare and used book dealers. One of my childhood favorites for many reasons it also makes my Recommended Reading List.

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Arizona’s Wildcats

The Arizona ballot initiative and campaign to end trophy hunting and trapping of Arizona’s wildcats came to an abrupt end recently when it was suspended. If you aren’t familiar with the campaign, run by the group Arizonans for Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), you can read the background here. I was a huge supporter of the initiative which launched last fall, so when I first heard it had been suspended I was in disbelief.

Unfortunately the official statement sent to supporters and volunteers via email from Acting President & CEO for the HSUS, Kitty Block, confirmed the end to what could have been a precedent setting campaign. “Facing an increasingly competitive state and national landscape, we are suspending efforts on our citizens’ initiative to ban trophy hunting of wild cats in Arizona. This difficult decision is the result of a perfect storm of local obstacles and emerging national issues and does not reflect Arizona voters’ enthusiasm for this proposal to ban inhumane trophy hunting practices.”

Part apology, part explanation a shocking and upsetting disappointment for supporters, endorsers and dedicated volunteers. The backlash and negative comments on social media against the campaign and the HSUS was immediate. For those who opposed the ballot this defeat is seen as a huge win for them, but is this really the end for advocates fighting to help Arizona’s wildcats?

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“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” ― William Wilberforce – Image Arizonans for Wildlife courtesy photo

What we do know is the movement against trophy hunting is not only growing in Arizona but throughout North America and the world. Another very recent article appropriately called The Cult of Hunting and its Timely Demise, by David Mattson, serves to reinforce this.

“The American public is, in fact, evincing increased alienation from the precepts of current wildlife management. A recent nationwide YouGov survey showed that 71% of those who were polled thought that sport hunting was morally wrong; 76% thought that killing animals for furs was unethical; both within a 3% margin of error. I’m not saying here that a super-majority of the American public “did not support” or “skeptically viewed” sport hunting. They felt something stronger. They thought it was unethical, even morally repugnant. And this objection, even revulsion, was exhibited across all age groups and political perspectives.”

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“Animal advocates must get to know the rules and be aware as it impacts the tools that they have.”– Image  Arizona Game & Fish Department

With this in mind I touched base with Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director and project lead on the ballot initiative, who spoke candidly on a our recent call about the end of the campaign and what comes next. She stressed that the decision to end the citizens initiative was not easy and there were many variables that had a hand in that decision. “The HSUS doesn’t start an initiative like this with the intent of suspending it and we knew by doing so, in one of the toughest states on the issue of trophy hunting, that it would have a domino effect.” If the Arizona ballot had been successful it meant the possibility of future similar initiatives elsewhere. However the political landscape, which plays a much bigger role than many realize, changed drastically. It impacted the cost of media buys for advertising and paid secured signature gathering which are integral parts of any state-wide ballot initiative especially where there is strong special interest forces of opposition.

While the HSUS was criticized for starting the campaign when the two bills that eventually had a huge impact on it, HB2244 and HB2404, were introduced months prior Kellye told me that sometime things are not as simple as they appear such as the impact they had on secured signature gathering which brought costs beyond what was predicted. “The HSUS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that means there is a lobby spending cap that you can use for certain things – but when your cost increase you can’t go over that cap.” Though they knew the law had changed compliance and even with budgets and planning there were many changes that could not have been anticipated. Kellye said that she sees bills like the ones recently introduced as part of a larger plan and trend and, as opponents recognize that organizations like HSUS have a powerful tool in the grassroots movement “they will do anything they can to roll back citizen initiatives.”

Kellye said that currently the best way for the public to help is via the November elections and stressed that “people need to know who they are voting for and who those members alliances are with.” The public must continue to stay vigilant, public input and comment is vital for wildlife management agencies and policies. “Currently there is not a supportive commission and that’s part of the problem. Why is policy geared towards a small minority? Lets not pretend it’s management – it’s for the anglers and hunters.”

Besides politics it can’t be forgotten that there is another important element to this story in the form of 1,700 volunteers who invested their time for a cause they believe in. Kellye got emotional when we spoke about this and told me that in her 3 years as the Arizona State Director she has had many inspiring moments, but nothing so much as during this particular campaign. She told me that during the weekend they suspended the campaign she didn’t want the volunteers to just get a statement. All the people she spoke to including the dedicated diehards as she calls them were saddened and devastated, but they quickly said to her What’s next? What else do we need to do? How can we stay engaged?”

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Arizonans for Wildlife Volunteers signature gathering. – Image Arizonans for Wildlife Facebook

To say in the worst of times we often see the best in people is no different in this case. In the worst moment Kellye said she looked at the volunteers and knew what kind of character they had. “I never knew how strong our movement was until I think going through that…so in many ways the worst weekend for the campaign was also the most inspiring. I got to really see people’s passion at a moment when you don’t expect it.” Without the volunteers hard work the citizen education could not have been done. Each time a volunteer had a conversation with someone at a signature gathering event or with friends or family people became aware of the issue, surprisingly 65% of people didn’t know that it was legal to kill these animals or trap bobcats, in the same way that Cecil the lion captured an international community.

The Arizona campaign didn’t end the way they wanted in a November victory, but what was accomplished in terms of education was tremendous. It inspired others to get active, become advocates for wildlife and other issues and this will continue on Kellye tells me. “The fact is unfortunately the successes that this campaign had and will continue to have isn’t easily quantified by votes and an election, nonetheless it’s important and it happened. Anyone that thinks otherwise does a disservice to our 1,700 volunteers.”

The HSUS will continue to be active on this issue, monitor and submit recommendations to Arizona Game & Fish as they did even before the campaign was suspended. Volunteers will also continue to be engaged on the issue, but moving forward it will look different from the formal campaign. Despite what anyone thinks, the movement is not going away as the issue still exists whether there is a campaign or not. The war on wildlife continues but each step made to help end it, even those seemingly small, is important. Unification among advocates, education and perseverance will be tools that help us ultimately win that war one day. In the meantime Kellye said Arizona is now “on the map for issues like this” and the fact that it had support from other states as well as other countries says a lot about a growing global movement towards a more humane approach to living with wildlife.

Reader’s Choice

Hi everyone, I need your help to decide the focus of an upcoming post. In the next month I will be talking to founder and director of S.P.E.C.I.E.S, Anthony Giordano, about the work his organization is doing to help the world’s wildcats.

I thought it would be fun to let my readers decide which wildcat we will discuss. Below are images of two species that the organization works with. The cat with the most votes, from the blog poll and Facebook poll combined, will be featured. Reader’s choice wins!

Please vote in the poll below for your favorite cat and, let me know if you have any questions on the species you vote for in the comment section. If your cat is featured, I will pick a few questions to include in my interview with Anthony.

Fishing Cat, Endangered Species, Sri Lanka, South East Asia, Deforestation, Poaching

Choice 1 – Fishing Cat

Jaguars, Chaco, Paraguay, Gran Chaco, South America, habitat loss, endangered species, big cats, livestock wildlife conflict

Choice 2 – Jaguars of the Chaco

Thanks to everyone who participates, the poll with be active for the next week so be sure to get your vote in!

Cat Village

Cat Island in Japan is famous for its feline residents as well as being a popular destination for tourists from all over, but while many flock there for the cats it is far from the ideal place most have imagined it would be. Hannah Shaw, aka Kitten lady, took a trip there a few years back and she shows us that it sadly falls short of what true cat lovers would expect.

Houtong, Taiwan has taken a different approach to capitalizing on their cats and it is one that ensures the well-being of their four-legged residents is a priority.

The former mining town, which is now referred to as the Cat Village, was taken over by cats that were left behind when all but a few people moved on. A local women and cat lover was the first to notice the cats and she organized other volunteers to help care for the now estimated 200 plus, ensuring that all are vaccinated, micro-chipped and spayed or neutered. The few remaining residents declared themselves a cat friendly sanctuary complete with cat cafes, shops and restaurants making Houtong the perfect mecca for cat lovers.

While the volunteers and residents have made great efforts with the cats, unfortunately there have been reports of people dumping or stealing cats as well as disease which was introduced by abandoned cats – the only apparent downside to the feline paradise. It is acknowledged that there is great potential to teach visitors the value of cats, but officials admit there may be much more work to do in that area.

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Cats of Houtong – Image By P1340, from Wikimedia Commons

A place with many cats means temptation, the type the every cat lover can easily fall prey to so with that in mind and knowing that people want to ‘touch’ the cats, those who are tasked for caring for them have made sure that there are plenty of signs and rules asking people to respect and not harass the animals. Getting people to obey all the rules may be another story.

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Houtong Cat Village, Photo provided by Anne Cooper – Animal Bliss

If you find yourself in Taiwan, or will be planning a visit just so you can see Houtong’s Cat Village directions on how to get there can be found here.

Virtual Jaguar

Last week I had my first Virtual Reality/360 experience appropriately called Living With Jaguars. It was an immersive presentation produced by VICES’s Motherboard that took the participant into the heart of the Brazilian Pantanal where jaguar densities are the highest in the world.

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Living with Jaguars – TIFF Bell Lightbox Toronto

Living with Jaguars, TIFF, Motherboard, Virtual Reality, Endangered Species, Big cats, Brazil, Pantanal, living with wildlife

Putting on the VR headset for the first time was a really odd sensation and I have to admit there were moments where I actually felt as if I was moving, this odd feeling was quickly overcome as I was whisked into the heart of jaguar territory. Overall I will say it was a really cool experience and my favorite part was the moment when a jaguar appears to walk right up to you.

“Through cutting-edge 3D scanning and photogrammetry techniques, Living With Jaguars creates an environment that allows you to explore first-hand the deeply connected worlds of jaguars, ranchers, conservation researchers, and ecotourism operators.”

Jaguars, like other big cats, are facing immense pressure from people, livestock, habitat loss, development and persecution. Living With Jaguars highlights Panthera’s Pantanal Jaguar Project which aims to save jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal while their Jaguar Corridor Initiative is helping to create on the world’s largest and intact jaguar corridors. Panthera is working with a variety of stakeholders, both public and private, including cattle ranchers and ecotourism operators with the goal of creating connectivity for jaguars, which is vital for ensuring gene flow and ultimately survival of the species. The two main goals are to protect main jaguar populations and help them navigate safely through human dominated areas over their entire six million km2 range.

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Living With Jaguars can be watched below in 360 at home, even if you don’t have a cardboard VR headset, using Google Chrome or Firefox.

More on the film and Panthera’s Jaguar corridor project can be read here.

In The Eyes

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Lion Cub Botswana – Image © Tori-Ellen Dileo

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” – author Terry Tempest Williams

I found this beautiful and inspiring quote on one of my favorite Instagram accounts Trish Carney Photo, a wonderful California based photographer who focuses on wildlife and has captured some of my favorite images of bobcats.

Cats in Venice

Italian photographer Marianna Zampieri has managed to capture the beautiful bond that exists between a bride and her cat with images that convey companionship, trust and love. The magical essence that is the domestic feline comes through in all her work including one special project soon to be the focus of a book titled Cats in Venice.

In anticipation of her new book I reached out to Marianna to talk about her photography, the book and of course her love of cats.

How did you get started in cat photography?

I have a passion for cats and photography and I started taking photos 5 years ago, a little time after my cat Arthur came into my life. I’ve worked on two main projects – Passions and the ongoing C-AT Work with cats as the protagonist. Then, in June of 2017 I started with my other project Cats in Venice.

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Cats in Venice – Image © Marianna Zampieri

What is your first memories with cats?

I have always been a cat lover, I think I was born with the passion for these amazing animals. A very large part of my memories are related to cats, I remember that I knew all the streets near my house by the cats that I used to meet on them. When I was young I had the fortune to share some years with a cat family that arrived in my garden, so I was lucky enough to observe their lives.

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Marianna with her cat Arthur – Image © Marianna Zampieri

Are you involved with any local cat rescue groups?

I manage a Facebook page dedicated to adoptions and food collection for cats in my city, organize information events and I also donate the proceeds to the branch of ENPA, an animal protection organization, in my city.

Please talk about your special cat Arthur!

Arthur is my joy, I owe him a lot. He has inspired all my projects, especially the idea of post-wedding services. He is a very special cat, and we’re really very attached. He was a rescue and he was very scared when I found him. Now after almost six years we are one, I speak to him a lot and I am sure that he understands even when I am not speaking at all.

What do you enjoy most about photographing cats and cats with their humans?

What I always try to capture in the photos, is the special relationship that is created between the cats and the people with whom they live or with whom they have a bond of trust. They are moments of extreme beauty that excite and move me. What drives me and always gives me great motivation is the emotion and respect towards these animals

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C-AT Work – Image © Marianna Zampieri

How important is it to ensure that cats you photograph are comfortable in your presence?

It is the most important thing! When I have to go to someone’s house for a home-based service, it’s the first thing I make clear: cats must be able to do what they want, even not to participate at all if they do not feel at ease. I always bring with me objects that I often use in sets: they are fake flowers or other things that are well suited to be used as games to interact with cats in complete freedom and are beautiful as a photographic rendering. But nothing must be demanded or forced. When I go to Venice, I never know what I am going to photograph, it all depends on the cats I meet.

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C-AT Work – Image © Marianna Zampieri

Please talk about your current projects

The C-AT Work project features cats that live in workplaces, and it is a project I am still working on that is leading me to visit really special and interesting places. They are environments in which we are not used to seeing cats, so the photos that come out are very curious and funny. The environments are perfect backgrounds for photographs that create amazing images.

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C-AT Work – Image © Marianna Zampieri

In June 2017 I started with Cats in Venice. I live in Vicenza and the beautiful Venice is not too far from there, so I thought that I wanted to show the strong bond that exists between this eternal city and her cats. I wanted to work on something special with these two subjects, but I had to think of a way to do it.

I Asked Venetians directly about the cats that live in Venice, the cats are free to go in the streets (streets that we call ‘Calli’) and they gave me so many reports that I created a map on my navigator and I started walking in this magical city, looking for the cats they told me about.

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Cats in Venice – Image © Marianna Zampieri

But the most important part was that they always told me every cat’s name and something about them, so I decided to create a photographic project enriched with texts that explain something more about every cat I meet (I asked people or their owner), and I think that this is the particular difference and beauty of this project.

Cats in Venice is an extra special project as you are publishing a book

Yes, I didn’t announce it officially yet but I am really excited, before the end of March Cats in Venice will be published by El Squero Editore. This is a dream come true as I have always wanted to collect all the photos and stories in a book but it wasn’t so easy. Finally I found an editor that believes in this project and here we are! Before the end of March I will be able to see the first copy of the book and I am really looking forward to it!

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Cats in Venice – Image © Marianna Zampieri

Where and when will the book be available for purchase?

I hope that it will be available within the end of March and for the first print it will be only in Italian, but I hope to translate it into English as soon as possible. For all the people interested, I will post the way to buy it on my Facebook page Cats in Venice and on my website www.mariannazampieri.it.

What was the most challenging part of the Cats in Venice project?

The most challenging thing is finding the cats! I follow the reports, so it is not always easy to find the cats that are shown to me. And it is also difficult try to capture their interest as they are always very busy, so I have to be fast!

What message do you hope to communicate to viewers with your photos?

Through my photos I try to capture the personality of the single portrayed cat and their great dignity. They can adapt to any environment while remaining faithful to themselves. What I hope comes from my work is the total respect I have towards them. If this comes, I can feel satisfied.

Marianna Zampieri, Photography, Italy, Weddings, Cat Photography, Brides and Cats, Cats in Venice, Photography, Cats at Work

Cats in Venice – Image © Marianna Zampieri

Do you think your work can help raise the status of cats?

I hope so. I am going to start a new project inspired by some beautiful stories I found, where special cats became symbols of some cities, and I am going to take photos and information about them and share with everyone. I think we all can do something to make their life better.

Marianna Zampieri, Photography, Italy, Weddings, Cat Photography, Brides and Cats, Cats in Venice, Photography, Cats at Work

Cats in Venice – Image © Marianna Zampieri

What is the best thing about photographing cats?

The satisfaction that comes with it when you know you have taken the ‘perfect’ picture , to be able to get in touch with the subject and have grasped the personality. It’s not easy, but the beauty is just that.