A little luck, a little magic and a lot of work

Well, I must say that today's kick-start to another year of animal photography was a blast. The day was sunny and frosty and the heron that greeted me this time was showing off some gorgeous feathers in a pool of gold. 

The big cats, to my disappointment, did not feel like doing much. I mean, you can't argue with energy like this, can you?

The younger tigress took a moment to pose with birches like the iconic Russian beauty she is, but her attempts to engage her mom in some roughhousing failed miserably as her efforts to beat through the glass to get at some kids. 

My luck very suddenly changed when I approached the Musk Deer enclosure. This peculiar little animal is a long-time resident of my wish list. I've been in places where there were wild musk deer, but was never fortunate enough to see them. So, naturally, I was glad that Leipzig Zoo had them. Ha! These things did not survive eons by standing in the spotlight and they are as secretive and cautious in the zoo as they are in the wild! It doesn't help that their enclosure is well shaded. But this time I just caught a break. There was plenty of gorgeous morning sunlight and a female was walking about!

The Musk Deer isn't the same kind of deer as, say, elk or red deer (so-called true deer, cervids). Instead of antlers males sport long vampire fangs, they lack facial glands but have the very precious musk glands. They are solitary and prefer to hide in dense brush where they can lay motionless for hours and hours. Their movements remind me somewhat of a cat - they creep through, carefully placing their feet and freezing solid in mid-motion. Their spines are more flexible than a regular deer's, so when they come up from under a pile of branches, they stretch and flex just like a feline. In certain circumstances they've been known to climb trees! Their hind legs are longer, much longer than their front legs, giving their backs a noticeable arch when they stand and walk, but this anatomic detail gives them a very powerful jump. They can also change their trajectory in mid-flight, at a 90° angles, zigzagging like rabbits. And when males show off in front of a rival they raise hairs on their backs and flash their fangs. All of that combined makes one odd herbivore, doesn't it?


The musk deer is a living relic, a category of animals that just fascinates me. Their roots go back as far as the early Oligocene (33.9 to 23 million years ago), but the Moschidae family (with seven species of Musk Deer) is the only modern survivor. Looking at the musk deer you do get a feeling of looking at something prehistoric. It's easy to imagine this animal living alongside the diverse and unusual fauna of the time when nature when nuts and got creative with mammals (before killing off those wonderful weirdos). Until recently it was thought that the primitive Musk Deer could have been an ancestor to the more modern deer, but recently it has been proven that it is more closely related to bovids (antelope and wild cattle).

I was hoping that the male would come out into the light, but he remained way back in the deepest shadows. I only took this shot to illustrate the fangs in this entry. hopefully, one day I will get a good shot of a male Musk Deer.

Everyone knows cheetahs and the basic facts about them. But today I noticed that these long-legged divas have amazing eyes and eyelashes. The eyes are deep-set and the lashes are rich, long and thick, casting long shadows over the eyes and face, giving the cheetahs' face a sultry femme-fatale quality. Today it was just an observation, but now I want to explore this a little more, play with counter-lighting and shadows, maybe. Just a note to self for the future.

The cheetahs in Leipzig are Southeastern African cheetahs. The work on identifying cheetah subspecies is ongoing. So far genetic studies have confirmed four subspecies.

By the way, did you know that the cheetah's closest relative is the cougar and that a species of prehistoric cheetah (Miracinonyx, two species, actually) is thought to have once inhabited North America and caused the pronghorn antelope to evolve into the world-class runner it is today with speeds up to 88 kmph. That cheetah is gone, but its memory survives in its prey. 

I don't usually photograph monkeys and apes, but this Lion-tailed Macaque was posing for a portrait so well, I just had to make the shot.

I returned to the Giant Otters, but missed feeding time, they were much more relaxed and mellow.

But there was a bit more natural light there and I did get this image with sun-lit vibrissae (the long stiff facial hairs) with water droplets clinging to them.

The zoo has a Squirrel monkey Island attraction, but I prefer to shoot these little guys from other spots. The island is only good if you want to see them up close, but it is not properly lit for fotography and the monkeys are just too close. Thankfully, there are several stops along the route that offer nice opportunities for people with far reaching lenses.

The Pied imperial pigeon was feeding on flowers nearby, so I took a shot at it too.

The Fishing cat was no more inclined to work with me than its larger relatives, but even in its sleep it made a nice model. Cats are just that perfect.

This Iguana is by no means a rare animal, but it did look nice, so here we go.

And here we are with another wish list beastie. I really really wanted a nice image of the zoo's flying foxes, but until now no good opportunities presented themselves. And then I saw this guy. Great, but I thought I could do without the roof in the background...

And the bat moved into a position with a perfect background. It was in no hurry and gave me plenty of time to work, and when I was done I was so, so happy!

When I left Gondwanaland the sun was already fading. The golden angled rays of sunshine provided some glamorous counter-lighting for a hyena.

Not bad for a day's work!