Wild Cats Of The Jura Mountains

Switzerland, a country known for its picturesque and mountainous landscapes is also home to some of the world’s most elusive and rare felines. Wild cat enthusiast, camera trapper, photographer and passionate citizen scientist Lars Begert is helping to tell the story of the small wild cats that call Switzerland’s Jura Mountains home. His hope is that by sharing his photographs and knowledge he will give them a voice, helping to inspire others to appreciate and protect these unique and important animals.

I recently interviewed Lars about his life long passion for nature, wildlife and his participation in the Wildcat Monitoring project that is doing important research not far from where he lives.

How did your passion for photographing wild cats start?

It all started as a child when my parents showed my brother and I the beauty of nature and love for wildlife early on.  We lived on the edge of the forest and in my spare time I would visit the ponds and pools to watch amphibians. We also went to the Swiss National Park for at least 2 weeks each year to watch animals. Relatives often gave me animal books for my birthday and I can remember one specific book very well, it had a tiger on the front cover, and I spent hours studying the different animal species. My grandparents always had domestic cats at home and I loved playing with them so I guess this was where my relationship with the cats started. As a child I always wanted to be an animal researcher, but lost interest for a short time while growing up. When I met my wife back in 2000 we started to look for wildlife on our vacations, because she also has a big interest in animals.

Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation, Swiss Federal Law on Hunting and the Protection of Indigenous Mammals and Birds

The Swiss Jura is one of the three distinct geographical regions of Switzerland, the others being the Swiss plateau and the Swiss Alps. Wikipedia

The big push really happened in 2011 when I started to wonder whether there were any lynx in the Aargau Jura. There was some indication that they were, but there wasn’t really much information about it so I started putting up cheap trail cameras. However, I had to wait over a year for the first lynx to run into one of my cameras. Also during that time I recalled a vacation from 2005 when we were in Kenya, so I decided to fly there again. It was just wonderful, I had a great guide and we saw so many wild cats but I was not so happy with the pictures, so I bought a better camera and went again in the same year. Since then, we always plan our vacation around wild cats. I can’t really describe it, but I am somehow quite attracted to them.

How did you become involved in camera trapping?

I started with cheap trail cams going after the Eurasian lynx and when I saw the pictures I was happy, but being quite the perfectionist I was also not happy. I mean you could identify the species, but for a great capture it was just not the right device. I recall seeing the captures of Sebastian Kennerknecht*, Steve Winter’s capture of mountain lion P-22** and the beautiful Eurasian lynx captures of Laurent Geslin*** and I thought I want to take pictures like this!

It took me a lot of time to find out how to work and create a stable, reliable setup but when I finally had my first capture of a pine marten I was so happy and it really opened up a whole new world photography wise. So I really started with DSLR camera trapping about 2 years ago and I am still learning a lot. I also had, and still have, a lot of setbacks. In the beginning I had a lot of technical issues and sometimes still do, particularly after heavy rainfall or storms. I also had quite the bad luck when it comes to the Eurasian lynx, last year it passed one of my camera traps 4 times and during that time the camera trap didn’t work, but when I finally did get a capture it was all worth it!

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Back to the cats 😺: Finally the young, male, Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus) B622 is back ! When it comes to lynxes and dslr cameratrapping, i wasn‘t very blessed with luck .This lynx appeared first in our area in october 2018. Since then he passed almost every month at one of my best spots, until June 2019. A long time, i was too scared to install a camera trap there, because it is also a hiking path and i didn‘t wan‘t to disturb Hikers/Trail Runners/Hunters/Mountain Bikers and was scared of theft or destruction. In may, i finally decided to place a dslr cameratrap there and i also found another place, where he appeared every 2 months and placed two dslr cameratraps too. The Lynx came by 4 times in june, but i had 1 defective battery at one place and because of a thunderstorm two defective PIR sensors at the other site. Since June the lynx only appeared once again at a different place i found and was dissapeared since, until last week. As it happened in the same way since i started to monitor Lynxes in our area at the end of 2015, indidn’t expect that he was coming back again – it was always the same pattern – A lynx appears in our area for 3 to 6 months every month and moves then to the western solothurn jura mountains, as our area is not the absolute prime habitat of the lynx. I am quite happy that he is back and finally passed one of my cameratraps and i hope that our area stay part of his territory. Time will tell. 🤞😺 . Captured with: Nikon D3300 | Nikon AF-S 35mm DX | Nikon SB-80DX | Fireking KKS-2 Hardcase | SensePi Motion Sensor by @appikoorg | Pixel Flash Adapter . #schweiz #suisse #lynx #lynxlynx #wildcat #wildcats #cameratrapping #cat #cats #catsofinstagram #catsofworld #wildcatsofinstagram #picoftheday #pic #wild #wildlife #wildlifephotography #wildlifeonearth #wildlife_vision #wildlifeplanet #nature #naturephotography #naturelover #naturelovers #nikonphotography #nikonswitzerland #wildgeography #wildphoto #speuzerlochs

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Tell me about the Wildcat Monitoring project you are currently involved in?

In 2008-2010 the Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland project was carried out to determine the distribution of the species in Switzerland for the first time. The monitoring was based on one systematic survey of wildcat occurrences in the Jura, unfortunately I wasn’t involved back then. Ten years later, the second survey is to be carried out to monitor developments in the wildcat population, both in terms of distribution and hybridization. The purpose of the inventory on behalf of the FOE (Federal office of environment) is as follows:

    • Distribution map of occurrences of wildcats in the Jura and in the Central Plateau up to the Pre-alps, status 2018-20201
    • Estimation of wildcat density2
    • Estimation of the rate of hybridization of wildcats
    • Changes in the distribution, density and hybridization rate in large carnivore management in the Jura compared to the first monitoring survey

Since you can’t tell the difference a 100% between a domestic cat (Felis catus) and the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) you have to find out through a DNA Analysis. This  means you need hair from the cats.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image © Lars Begert @lynxlynx.ch – hair trap installation

In this Wildcat Monitoring project there are specific square kilometer habitats defined and, on every square kilometer you have to set 3 wooden pickets on an animal trail. You treat the picket with a knife that the hairs get stuck to when the cat rubs on the picket. To attract them you spray the picket with Valerian. Wildcats, as well as other animals, are quite attracted to Valerian especially during mating season which is January to March.

To date, what species of wild cats have shown up on your camera traps?

In Switzerland we have two species of wild cats: the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus). The Eurasian lynx was eradicated during the 19th century and reintroduced in 1971 again with individuals from the Carpathian mountains, while the European wildcat was strongly reduced but never became completely extinct in Switzerland. So far I am happy that I have been able to capture both of our wild cat species with my camera traps. This fact makes me particularly happy as the area in which I operate the camera traps is the direct “back-country” of my home, as well as a peripheral region for these two animal species.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – wildcat footprints or not?

As a citizen scientist what do you hope to contribute to wild cat conservation where you live?

I hope that I can collect as much information as possible about the distribution and density of the wildcat in our region to support and help the scientists. With my captures I hope that I can inform people that these wild cats actually exist, as many people don’t know about them and when I do show them pictures they feel that it is a domestic cat. I want to make them aware that we have a great little wildcat in the woods with us, that it is worth protecting and that we need to be aware of the importance of protecting nature including our forests. In the next few years I would like to create a picture book about the beautiful nature we are surrounded with and focus on our two wild cat species.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert @lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

What is next for the monitoring project?

For the next 2.5 months I will manage the hair traps, that means I have to check every 2 weeks if there are hairs at the pickets and treat the pickets again with a knife and Valerian. I already found hairs on two of my pickets this season, but of course don’t know yet from which animals the hairs are from. I personally set a camera trap in front of every picket so I already know that at least on one of the pickets a phenotypic****Euorpean wildcat went by and examined the picket, but I also know that there were 4 other species rubbing their body on the picket. The lab will sort out and analyze the hairs and with some hairs they can already tell, by the structure, that it is not a wildcat.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

I expect to have the first results, which determine whether the hair has wildcat DNA or not, by August/September this year. During the second step they analyze all the remaining wildcat hairs to determine the hybridization level. By the end of 2021 the project will be over and we should have all the relevant data. My work will be completed by end of march as I only work in the field, but my camera trapping will continue.

Why was it so important to become involved in helping document the presence of these animals?

For me it was a dream, because I wanted to become a animal researcher as a child but decided then to another path work-wise. I want to help in my free time as much as I can to provide as much data as possible for the researchers and to get a better understanding of how we can help a species like the wildcat in this small, fragmented country. I wouldn’t expect that everyone becomes involved in this type of project, but it could really help to raise the awareness with people. I think we are so disconnected with nature, there has to be a change. Otherwise the nature we know will disappear.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

What are some of the biggest threats wildcats in Switzerland face and, what is being done to help them?

The main threats of the European wildcat include:

  • Habitat loss, destruction and fragmentation (road traffic)
  • Disease transmission from domestic cats
  • Hybridization with domestic cats

Although the idea of hybridization is quite controversial, some scientists see it as a threat while others are not sure because it hasn’t been thoroughly researched yet. Unfortunately there is not a lot that can be done to reduce this threat. Switzerland is quite a small fragmented country and there are some projects working to connect habitats. Even though the wildcat is never the main focus of course it will benefit. Concerning the hybridization issue there are some animal welfare organization which require neutering for free range domestic cats or feral cats, which is also considered controversial because it is quite a harsh measure.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

Please tell me about the recent Swiss hunting law that was proposed

The new hunting law has come out all wrong. “In the future protected animal species such as lynx, wolf, beaver and grey heron can be shot down before they have caused any damage and, before any protective measures for herds or flocks have been taken simply because they exist. This new law also comes at a time when biodiversity is facing its most precarious moment in the history of humankind. The congress of states and the national council already voted for it. Several Swiss nature and animal protection organizations are resorting to a referendum against the revised “Swiss Federal Law on Hunting and the Protection of Indigenous Mammals and Birds” (In German Jagdgesetz, JSG) and are fighting against this unacceptable weakening of the protection of species in Switzerland. The only things the new law would protect are agricultural interests and hunting and fishing yields.” Together with a colleague I went to the zoo Basel to collect signatures from people. I am happy that the 50,000 signatures were collected and there is now a vote for the referendum on May 17, 2020.

What is your personal philosophy with regards to conservation and photographing wildlife?

Even though I’m pretty wild cat oriented, the important thing is the entire ecosystem so every species counts. When it comes to photographing wildlife I have discovered disturbing things in the last years. There are a lot of so called wildlife photographers that are not really interested in the animal, they are interested in their capture and the fame and glory they probably will get from it. They don’t care if they destroy nature, or if the animal gets hurt or if they stage and fake the photo as long as they are getting their shot. So in my understanding there is no wildlife photography without conservation. Just observe before taking a capture.

If you had to pick a few favorite highlights while photographing wild cats, either at home or on your travels, which would they be?

It is quite hard to pick. I am very grateful, and I really appreciate, that I had already a lot of awesome encounter with wild cats. But I will narrow it down to 3 highlights:

  1. My first Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered wild cats. In 2014 we went to Andalusia, southern Spain, and after 2 attempts and 4 weeks down there we finally saw our first lynx, it was just magical to see this beautiful animal in the wild.
  2. Next is caracals in Kenya In 2013. I decided to go again to Kenya, Masai Mara, to photograph wildcats. I told our guide at the camp that I’d plan to go to South Africa later that year because of caracals. He laughed and told me that he could show me a caracal if we came back again. So I convinced my wife to go to Kenya again instead of South Africa. We searched for days to see a caracal, and our guide was already quite frustrated when a colleague of his called and told him that they had seen a caracal. We hurried over and found 2 strolling in their territory. I didn’t get any proper capture, but it was again so wonderful to just watch and observe these beautiful animals.
  3. Finally my first bobcat capture in 2018. We already tried to see bobcats in 2015 in California, but weren’t successful at that time. We later flew to San Francisco where I went to the Golden Gate Bridge recreation area and, on the second morning there I decided to go a little bit earlier. I started hiking down to the sea, my camera ready when I passed by some coyotes and saw another shadow further down. At first I thought it was another coyote, but realized suddenly that it was moving like a cat. I slowly approached the animal and saw a bobcat! He was looking for rodents in the grass and walked up again another road. He turned his head and wasn’t even disturbed at my presence as long as I kept my distance. I followed him for around 20 minutes, took some pictures before he disappeared in the tall grass again. That was just another magical moment, alone with a beautiful creature!

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Go out enjoy nature and wildlife! Appreciate this amazing planet we have and help to protect and conserve it. Get your connection to nature back – It gives us so much in return. Nature needs all of us now.

For more wild cats, camera trapping photos and other wonderful images of wildlife like amphibians, be sure to follow Lars on Instagram at @Lynxlynx.ch.


*Sebastian Kennerknecht

**Mountain lion P-22

***Laurent Geslin

F1.Unit: occurrence probability per km2

F2.Number of wildcats per km2, incl. 95% confidence interval

****.Phenotype

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.

A Bride and Her Cat

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your cat included in your wedding celebration? Not the actual ceremony of course, but something more permanent, and agreeable to the cat, that would last beyond the actual day and remain frozen in time along with all of the other wonderful memories. Marianna Zampieri, a photographer and cat lover based in Italy, started offering her clients this very service and the opportunity to share their special day with their beloved feline family member.

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© Marianna Zampieri

After Marianna included her own adopted cat Arthur, whom she describes as her “greatest passion and favorite model”, in a series of her own wedding photos her friends fell in love with them and soon started requesting the same experience at their own weddings.

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© Marianna Zampieri

There are no rules and Marianna never forces a cat to do something that it does not want to do. The photos are all spontaneous and the cats do what pleases them at the moment.

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© Marianna Zampieri

Marianna says that she can never predict the outcome of her photo shoots so she simply becomes a spectator that documents what unfolds. To ensure that her cat clients always feel comfortable she goes to the clients home and, by looking at her pictures you can clearly see that comfort as well as the deep love of the human-cat bond that exists.

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© Marianna Zampieri

Marianna’s photography encompass more than weddings and she has many wonderful galleries showcasing her different projects – currently she is working on cats at work and cats in Venice. In addition Marianna manages a Facebook page dedicated to adoptions and food collection for cat colonies in her area.

To see more of her photography, which I highly recommend, please visit her photography website and her Facebook page Cats in Venice.

*February 28, 2018 – update made, Marianna is not working on a project about stray cats and those who volunteer to help them, her current projects include cats at work and cats in Venice.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit, co-owned by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum, is a competition that showcases the best of the best when it comes to nature and wildlife photography. For a second year, the exhibit is being shown at the ROM in Toronto and I made sure to stop by this past weekend before it closes on March 22.

Last years exhibit was pretty spectacular and this years did not disappoint with photographers of all ages and skill levels from around the world showcasing their talents.

Some photos make an impact simply because they are visually stunning and others because they also relay a message, reflect the times we live in or show us where we may be headed. There are too many to mention here, but I will narrow down a few of my favorites starting with the Grand title winner Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols and his ethereal black and white piece The Last Great Picture.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, Grand title winner, Black and White, Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, USA The last great pictureImage © Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols

Taken in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, 5 Lionesses part of the Vumbi pride are captured as they lay on a rocky outcrop called a Kopje resting with their cubs, exhausted after having driven off the prides two males.”  What makes this image even more poignant is that it would be the last time he would photograph them all together. A few months later he learned that they had ventured outside the park and that three of the five females had been killed.

Next is Finalist David Lloyd with his photo The enchanted woodland and I have to say the combination of Leopard and Yellow fever tree is captivating. Taken in Kenya’s Lake Nukuru National Park this is a perfectly timed photo of a Leopard looking as if he was just waiting to be photographed.

Among the finalists in the youth category I picked The watchful cheetah by Leon Petrinos ‘You can tell the animal’s feelings from the look in the eye, the way the fur lies and how the ears move,’ says Leon. He particularly likes portraits, he says, because ‘the animal’s feelings talk to you’.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, Finalist, The Watchful Cheetah – Image © Leon Petrinos, Greece

Vanishing lions taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve by Skye Meaker another finalist in the youth category, gives us a picture with a strong message behind it. ‘I want the picture to raise awareness that lions are a vulnerable species,’ he says. ‘To me, this picture conveys the feeling that lions are fading from Africa.’  With fewer than 25,000 Lions estimated to be left across the continent, this young photography doesn’t realize how accurate his statement is.

Special Award: Wildlife Photojournalist of the year went to Brent Stirton from South Africa for his portfolio on how the lives of Lions are linked to humans in Bred to be killed which also highlights the practice of canned hunting. Hopefully having this appalling industry exposed through a mainstream exhibit will show thousands of people why the world has rallied to fight against it.

From the World in Our Hands category one of my all time favorites and finalist, Hollywood Cougar by photographer Steve Winter.

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Finalist 2014, World in our Hands, Steve Winter, USA,  Hollywood Cougar – Image © Steve Winter

For more award-winning images check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit online or in person when it comes to your city.

On the Trail of Big Cats

I recently had the pleasure of going to see award-winning photographer Steve Winter speak at a National Geographic Live Lecture series here in Toronto. If you are not familiar with his name, it is very likely you have seen his work including the images of Snow Leopards that won him the 2008 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

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Masters of their environment and one of the most elusive of the big cats and rarest photographed – Photo Steve Winter

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The endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is found in the rugged mountains of Central Asia. – Photo Steve Winter

I remember seeing these photos in Nat Geo and being utterly mesmerized by these intriguing cats and, hearing Steve Winter speak about the story behind the photos really brought them to life. Snow Leopards not fond of human company, made them the perfect candidates for use of strategically placed camera traps which helped produce these magical portraits.

Steve Winter’s “mission is to share the beauty of big cats while reinvigorating efforts to save them.” From trekking in India for Snow Leopards to working his way through the jungles of South America in search of Jaguar, he manages to captures the big cats in an unobtrusive way. For me it shows a respect for and love of the subject, as well as a commitment to helping preserve them by encouraging others to see a unique animal and story in each photo.

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The jaguar (Panthera onca) also called el tigre, is the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest in the world, after the tiger and lion.  Photo Steve Winter

One of my personal favorite photos is of the famous Hollywood Hills Cougar also know as P-22 that was published in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic.

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Automatic cameras were set up for a year in the hills of Griffith Park to capture images of the elusive P22, the “ghost cat” that is the area’s only known cougar (Puma concolor) – Photo Steve Winter

Think of it: A large carnivore that must kill to eat is meeting its nutritional needs in the heart of greater L.A., all the while avoiding attention better than a camera-shy celebrity. How does he do it? By moving with a whisper-soft tread mostly in the twilight and at night, sticking close to thick cover, zealously guarding his privacy in a metropolis renowned as the gateway to fame.”

P-22’s notoriety did not end there however, in March of this year National Park Services noticed his mangy appearance when they captured him to replace the battery in his GPS collar.

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P22 was found to be suffering from mange and tested positive to exposure to rodenticides, commonly known as rat poison  – (photo National Park Service)

An update in May later showed the treatments P22 had received seemed to be working, many including myself breathing a sigh of relief. Steve Winter’s Hollywood Hills Cougar captured the attention of people worldwide and in doing so the photo created a deeper connection with this beautiful animal, one that would remain strong long after the cats 15 minutes of fame had ended. It would also be a vehicle to help highlight the cougars plight and just how deadly commonly used rat poison is to wildlife in general.

Finally, If you are a fan of Tigers, I highly recommend picking up yourself a copy of Steve Winter’s Tigers Forever book, his decade-long project to document the world’s shrinking but resilient tiger species. It is full of exquisite photographs and information, some of which you will see and hear about if you attend his lecture.

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“By saving the world’s top predators, we save huge forests, rivers, wildlife, and ultimately, our planet.” Quote and Photo – Steve Winter

“On the Trail of Big Cats: Tigers, Cougars, and Snow Leopards” with Photographer Steve Winter lecture series continues in 2015 and if you get a chance to see it in your city don’t miss it.

Wisdom Wednesday Quote

“Sometimes it happens that a black cat lets you pass in front of it.” ~ Author Unknown 

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Little Leopard

I recently had the pleasure of cat sitting my first Bengal named Myko. For those who follow my Cat-stagram feed you will have seen some videos I took of this handsome boy.

Myko was a joy to visit every day and he always had something to say (big talker). Highly intelligent and almost dog like Myko would follow me around and wait for his opportunity to sit on my lap, usually upside down. He is also a very curious, active cat and loved his supervised outdoor time in the garden.

The Bengal coat comes in a multitude of beautiful colors and some coats can be spotted, marbled or have rosettes.  “The Bengal was developed to try to meet that desire for a wild look in a safe way by crossing small wild Asian Leopard Cats and domestic shorthairs. Jean S. Mill began the Bengal breeding program in 1963, and Bengals today descend from cats bred by her in the early 1980s.”

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Spotted beauty

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Myko shows his beautiful profile and eyes

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Cuddle time!

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Belly rubs please!

The Bengal is a gorgeous, active, intelligent cat that needs lots of interaction and attention. Before considering this breed do your research first as the Bengal is not for everyone. If you decide to bring a Bengal into your life please check rescues, consider fostering and or adoption from your local animal shelter as they will turn up in the shelter system, either due to owner surrenders, abandonment or as strays.