Short stop by Leipzig Zoo

I really should do a big piece on the lovely Leipzig Zoo. I enjoy it every time I visit my family, and these holidays won't be any different. My first (and hopefully, not the last!) visit this time around was short. The weather was quite bleak, with very little light and low animal activity, but I did manage to get a little bit here and there. Photographing in zoos may not be as exciting as shooting in the wild, but it is a good exercise and helps my trigger finger from itching too much in-between expeditions.

This miserable little Grey Heron met me at the entrance. It kind of reflected the overall tone of the weather that day, but I didn't let it get me down. After all, if outside is nasty, this Zoo can always offer some great indoor facilities!

The only animal that was actually doing something worth looking at outside was a Spotted Hyena. I have mixed feelings about Spotted Hyenas. On one hand they are truly fascinating animals with unique adaptations. On the other... Maybe it's some kind of innate bias against a super predator that scared the living daylights out of our human ancestors, maybe it's something else, but Spotted Hyenas give me the heebie-geebies. Very professional, I know. But it is fun when I can make an endearing image of an animal like that. Look at it! I can't be mad at a face like that!

The Ringed Teal was a very curious little duck that perched right next to me in the Flamingo enclosure and posed in the very short-lived and very pale sunlight.

Now, as I mentioned, Leipzig Zoo has indoor facilities for you to observe all kinds of beasties in warmth and comfort. They have an aquarium, which is currently being renovated, and a terrarium. After my lenses cleared up from fog I made sure to visit my favorite scalies.

This little dragon always looks so hauty, like you are the help and he is the lord of all he surveys. This is a Chukwalla (Sauromalus obesus) and it is one of my favorite lizards here.

The Green Bush Snake (Gonyosoma prasinum) is also one of my favorites, it's just so elegant! This time it posed for a very low-key portrait. Lately I've developed a preference for shadows in headshots and want to explore it more. Here the little snake's eyes were catching light so nicely, like little gems, that I didn't want anything dragging attention away from them.

The second, and main, indoor attraction is the so-called Gondwanaland. The Zoo is rightfully proud of this jewel and I love spending time there! Gondwanaland is a giant dome that houses a tropical paradise with huge plants, colorful birds, bats, reptiles and amphibians, tropical animals and a nice little river you can ride a boat on. Whoever designed it put a lot of thought in making it good for both visitors and inhabitants. In winter it is not as rich in free-range animals, but there's still plenty to look at.

As you walk into the dome, you walk through a long passage where a special exposition helps kids learn the history of Earth. It is livened up with behind-the-glass nocturnal animals and aquariums. Some of the fish there look very familiar as they were pretty popular in personal fish tanks when I was a kid. I myself once had a 200-liter fish tank full of very exotic and richly colored fish, so seeing some of those species here brings some sweet nostalgia. Especially since now the variety of fish available for purchase took a real dive compared to what I remember from my childhood. Anyway, fish aren't the only creatures splashing around here. This cute little weirdo is an Eastern long-necked Turtle. I have a soft spot for freshwater turtles, I used to keep those, too. Since my gypsy lifestyle doesn't allow that anymore I really enjoy seeing them in good terrariums and zoos.

In the main pavilion I was thrilled to see the Giant Otters that so far eluded me. It was an exciting encounter for me because I've long wanted to see them and I plan on photographing them in the wild. The thing that stunned me was not their impressive size, but how friggin' loud they are! I saw them just before feeding time and their shrill banshee cries almost burst my eardrums. They were looking up at a crowd of visitors and screaming their heads off like crazy. Thankfully, a zookeeper with a bucket of fish put an end to the hootenanny.

Just as I was leaving the Zoo, I stumbled on a band of free-roaming Mandarin ducks. They didn't belong to any enclosure and their wings were fully functional, so I don't know what their deal is. They kept away from people and were not in any of the ponds that are meant to enrich the design of the Zoo grounds.

The males were bobbing their heads as if in courtship display. Birds often display ritualistic behavior twice a year - in spring, when it is mating time, and sometimes in the fall, when it doesn't lead to anything. And right now it's so warm here in Leipzig that I don't blame the ducks for getting their seasons mixed up!

Anyway, this Zoo is nice to visit any time of year. If you're ever in town, spare a couple of hours for a visit here.

Happy holidays and best wishes to all of you!