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 including one on stray cats and those who volunteer to help them. In addition Marianna manages a Facebook page dedicated to adoptions and food collection for the 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.

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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.

My Little Panther

This week marks the 4 year anniversary of the passing of my cat Simon. Sometimes it feels like I had to say goodbye yesterday and other days if feels like a lifetime ago. Simon lived a wonderful 18 years, and maybe a little selfishly I wished it could have been longer.

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The Early Years

Simon was a very kind, gentle spirit who loved everyone he met including Spinner, a later addition to our cat family, and Cleo our Tabby cat who had no patience for him. She often walked by giving him a smack with her paw right on his face, leaving Simon shocked every time. He never retaliated however, instead he would sneak up to sleep by her side and even wash her problem ear as she got older.

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Simon washes his brother Spinner

Simon adored his brother Spinner and, after an initial hiss upon first meeting, they became best buddies. Simon was talkative, inquisitive and always wanted to know what the humans were up to. There are many fond memories of Simon during the holidays as he loved to hang out with guests and would sit at the dinner table like a proper gentleman.

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Simon enjoys a spot in the winter sun

Simon had green eyes and a pure black coat with a blue tint, fading slightly towards the end of his life to reveal a subtle mink color…and a few grey hairs. I always called him my little panther, for he resembled one perfectly in miniature, sleek beauty and grace. One of my favorite pictures of him above, the late winter sun striking his fur in such a way that it looks like he is shimmering.

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Simon helps me get organized. One the last photos taken of him

Simon brought years of joy, comfort and humor to our lives and even my dad, who wasn’t a cat person and called him Sparky, was very upset at his passing.  Despite knowing it was his time and that I was doing the right thing, I still went through all the typical stages of grieving including questioning my decision.

There was an emptiness and pain present immediately after he died, everywhere I turned there was a reminder of him and I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I painted his portrait, the only way I could express what I was feeling.

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Simon

A moment captured, Simon looking down and away as he was in the habit of doing when being photographed,  a wonderful cat with a wise old soul who will always be remembered.

One of the many lasting gifts Simon gave me was a love and appreciation for black cats, and with Black Cat Appreciation Day on Sunday August 17, I find it the perfect time to celebrate his life and spread the love for all the little panthers everywhere.

Wildlife Photographer of The Year – The Big Cats

The photograph’s that you wish you took, the camera to take those pictures you wish you had, the timing and talent…yes I admit there is a tiny bit of jealousy looking at these absolutely glorious pictures – but it’s all good. Today I was able to catch the WPY exhibit here at the ROM in Toronto before it closes this weekend.

“Natural History Museum in London, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is now in its 50th year, and is one of the museum’s longest running exhibitions. This internationally renowned photography competition celebrates nature and wildlife featuring 100 breathtaking photos selected from over 43,000 entries from around the world.”

I am familiar with some of the pictures and photographers especially as they pertain to Big Cats and it was really nice to see them in person. Here are my personal favorites.

Curiosity and the cat by Hannes Lochner, South Africa. This pic won as a joint-runner up 2013, Animal Portraits. It’s an amazing up close picture of a Lion cub taken with his “remote wireless technology” allowing him to get close without being intrusive. I love the expression on the Lion and the story behind it which you can read here.

Curiosity & the Cub Hannes Lochner WPYPhoto courtesy  of Hannes Lochner, South Africa, Curiosity and the cat

Other big cat photos that I really liked include:

The spat featuring a couple of feisty Jaguars by Joe McDonald, USA. This rare pic earned him Winner 2013, Behaviour Mammals.

Sharing a shower with 2 male Lions by Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, USA, Commended 2013, Animals in their Environment.

The Winner 2013, Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species by Toshiji Fukuda, Japan Tiger untrapped. For this picture of the endangered Amur, or Siberian, tiger the photographer lived in a tiny cold hut for 74 days and on day 50 he got this shot. That is commitment!

The Runner-up 2013 of the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species, Valeriy Maleev, Russia, Survivors. This is of a rare Amur Leopard and her cubs another critically endangered subspecies.

I wonder if people looking at these realize just how precious each image is, I hope it inspires others to work towards saving all of these big cats.

There is still a few days to submit your own nature and wildlife photos with #ROMWPY on Twitter or Instagram. This give you a chance to see your photos on display in the museum. If you want to enter the WPY competition, adults and children under 17 can enter, you should start digging through your photo albums or… digital files now.