Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

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Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

Saving Africa’s Dappled Beauty

On my trip to Africa last year I had the amazing fortune and privilege to see a handful of leopards which are unbelievable in person with their relaxed, enigmatic, graceful beauty even in the extreme heat. I will be posting more photos of my trip at a later time but wanted to share this one of a lovely young female from Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She had just had her Impala stolen by the famous resident one-eyed male known as Kataba – more on him later as well, who was sitting in a tree not more than five feet from her!

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Right now Panthera pardus needs your help, they have been over-hunted and persecuted to such an extent that South Africa has extended the ban on hunting them into 2017. This means there is a zero quota which has stayed in place since last January. While it doesn’t protect them from illegal hunting, retaliatory killings, poisoning, poaching etc…eliminating at least one form of mortality is a decent step. Leopard numbers are not known and to continue to allow these animals to be killed for sport is just not acceptable.

How you can help

Until midnight on January 30, 2017 the USFWS will be taking comments on leopards. We are asking to protect them from both hunting and the trade in their body parts. What the leopard needs is a reclassification to an Endangered status. If you could take a few minutes to visit the link and leave comments based on the following below.

Please try to modify with your own words but include some of the scientific facts and references as the USFWS will only consider comments if they include this important information. You may leave your comments with your name or as anonymous. Just click the blue ‘Comment Now’ button on the upper right corner! We urgently need more comments before the deadline – please share!

I strongly support the reclassification of the Leopard (Panthera Pardus) to Endangered Species. I support this for the following reasons:

  • First, scientific data shows that leopards are the most persecuted cat species in the world and that there is a major lack of data on the actual number of leopards remaining. Camera trapping surveys conducted during a study period indicate that leopard population in Southern Africa is declining rapidly and at a very concerning rate.
  • One of the major causes of leopard mortality, trophy hunting, can be stopped immediately. It is known that trophy “off take rates” are exceed and that corruption in the release of permits for trophy hunting occurs on a frequent basis making hunting these big cats for sport simply unsustainable.
  • Along with Trophy hunting there is illegal hunting, trapping and snaring, poisoning, killing for skin, legal destruction, farm livestock protection, revenge killings all pushing leopards to the brink of extinction. Leopards are also victims of Climate change and drought, which has an impact and threatens the leopard population worldwide.
  • Leopard habitat has greatly decreased which also threatens the leopard population worldwide; this creates conflict with growing agriculture, livestock farming and urbanization. Fences and fragmentation of the leopard habitat will in turn reduce the reproduction rate of the species.
  • Unreported and illegal killing of leopards is widespread across Southern African countries all of which have inadequate legislation and poor control to persecute illegal killings and manage the leopard population.
  • Another growing problem is the illegal trading of leopard parts – like with other big cats the trade is not adequately punishable or discouraged by the countries where the leopard is an indigenous species.
  • Finally enforcement is weak, incompetent, under-staffed and dysfunctional. Conservation departments are simply unable to monitor a particular elusive species such as leopard.
  • For these many legitimate reasons I am asking that Leopards be immediately reclassified as an Endangered Species and all hunting and trade of this highly imperiled species cease.

For your reference I am providing the following references:

  • Kahler & Gore, M.L. 2005, Local Perceptions, Human-Wildlife conflicts in Namibia
  • Minin-Fraser-Slotow-McMillan, Understanding the preference of tourists for big game species. Implication for Conservation, 2013
  • Nadal &Aguaio, A review of the Economic Analysis of wildlife trade, 2014
  • Richardson-Loomis, The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species, 2009
  • Ripple-Estes-Beschta, Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores, 2015
  • St John-Keane, Identifying indicators of carnivore killing, 2012
  • Swanepoel-Lindsey-Somers, Extent and fragmentation of suitable Leopard habitat in South Africa, 2013
  • Thorn-Green-Scott, Characteristics and determinants of human-carnivore conflict in South African farmland, 2013
  • Wilson-Spaeth, Governments are not doing enough to stop wildlife crime, 2017
    http://city-press.news24.com/…/governments-are-not-doing-en…
  • Cameron, Bustling trade in illegal wildlife products at Johannesburg market, 2016
    https://www.biznews.com/…/watch-bustling-trade-in-illegal-…/
  • THE COMPREHENSIVE STUDY PRESENTED TO THE FWS ON THE 25TH OF JULY 2016 BY HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL –USA
    https://drive.google.com/…/0BxP8B7Q8gpNZeEZjTm5ia3FDZ2M/view
  • EMS Foundation Comments to the Department of Environment Affairs/Leopard Trophy Hunts
    https://www.dropbox.com/…/EMS%20Foundation%20Comments%20on%…

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.

Throwback Thursday Lion Around

Throwback Thursday – Lions doing what Lions do best. All photos taken in Moremi Game Reserve – Okavango Delta Botswana

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Over the past 50 years Africa’s lion populations have plummeted from over 200,000 individuals back in the 1960’s to fewer than 25,000 today.”

Time is quickly running out for Lions and one day soon all that may be left are images like these ones. January 27 is the final day to ask the USFWS to list the African Lion as endangered and to ban importation of all Lion trophies into the USA, please take a few minutes to leave your comments The online form can be found here.

Mountain Lion Encounter

Nature/Wildlife photographer Daniel Bradford from Montana captured this rare and amazing footage of a mountain lion, he used a hand call which brought the big cat to him and the encounter resulted in these stunning images. By the look on the cats face she clearly didn’t notice him until she got close. There appears no threat, but more curiosity on the cats part and a stealthy retreat when that curiosity is satisfied.

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Mountain Lion encounter in Montana – Daniel Bradford

Click here for video

It’s good to remember that mountain lions are generally trying to avoid people however the Mountain Lion Foundation recommends ” If you do see a mountain lion, no matter how thrilled you are to be one of the very few who gets such an opportunity, stay well back, and take the encounter seriously.”

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Image – Wikipedia

Quick Cat facts

  • A cat with many names, the mountain lion is also known as cougar, shadow cat, ghost cat, catamount, panther, and screamer.
  • The largest native American cat shares the shape of its nose, its wide skull, and its short face with the small cats.
  • The species does not roar in the manner of lions and leopards, but purrs like the smaller cats.
  • The puma has unusually long hind legs adapted for jumping and bursts of high-speed. They can leap 20 feet straight up a cliff and can perform downhill leaps of 30 to 40 feet.
  • The geographic range of the puma is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. It reaches from Canada, through areas of the United States, and down through Central and South America.
  • This solitary cat travels extensively while hunting, killing and eating prey that ranges in size from mice to moose.
  • The puma can swim and climb trees when needed, often taking refuge in trees when pursued by dogs.
  • Threats to the puma include loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, sport hunting and retaliatory killing of puma when puma kill humans or livestock.

Source – Felidae Conservation Fund

Hollywood Hills Cougar Update!

If you read my post On The Trail of Big Cats you will recall the story and photo’s of a mountain lion known as P-22. Photographer Steve Winter brought us the now famous image of the big cat with the Hollywood Hills sign in the background in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic. Unfortunately early this year P-22 was found to be suffering from exposure to rat poison but he was treated and released with the hopes he would recover.

An update and some good news

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P-22 Before and After – photo Mountain Lion Foundation

Griffith Park’s resident mountain lion — P-22 was found to be suffering from mange and overexposure to rat poison. Now, nearly eight months later, Park officials have released photographs in which P-22 appears to be, strong, healthy, and happily feeding on the carcass of a deer.” – via Mountain Lion Foundation

Along with this encouraging news there has been additional photographic evidence of a new mountain lion in the area “it marks only the second time in the past 12 years that a verified mountain lion sighting has occurred east of the 405 Freeway.” 🙂

For more info be sure to check out Save LA Cougars

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 P22 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.”

P22’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.