The Tails Tell

I don’t know about you, but I love learning new things.

While there are 8 cheetahs at the zoo, only 3 females circulate their time in the display enclosure: Zoey, Mahala and Pinki. I’ve known a few sets of identical twins through my lifetime and once you spend time with at least one of them, they can actually become easy to tell which is which, so I’ve always put the zoo zeepers’ ability to tell which is which down to the fact that they spend time with them, so had picked up on some uniqueness mixed up with the same general features. Turns out, you don’t need to spend much time with them to figure out who is who. Just look at the ends of the tails in the shots here. Suddenly, things aren’t exactly the same, are they? Above is Pinki.

Take a look for yourself. It becomes obvious when you know what to look for, doesn’t it?

As for photographing cheetahs in snow: I was fascinated by seeing them in a situation one doesn’t usually attribute to cheetah habitat and couldn’t resist the opportunity of trying to capture their gorgeous coats against the stark white background. They are fed snacks at 1pm to give visitors a chance to see them up close and for the zoo keeper to talk about them, so not the best photography light at the best of times, and as you can see by the images included here, shooting on a cloudy day gives much better results than full sun. A sweet old guy commented as I was shooting a cheetah running across the snow, “You’re shooting into the sun?” “Yep,” I said. Not like I could change my light source. It is very important to realize when you are not only shooting into the sun, but shooting with a very bright background, as the snow is, especially on a bright, sunny day. I loved the shadows, shot in manual mode (after having spot metered on the cheetah), went with the flow and hoped for the best. The cats were going to be where the cats wanted to be, not where I necessarily would have preferred them to be (though that is what repeated visits are for — being there for when an animal is where you imagine/hope them being). Worse case scenario shooting into the sun would have been cat silhouette against the snow with gorgeous deep blue shadows, as long as the shot didn’t get completely blown out. And, I am happy to say that since I had taken the lighting into consideration as I shot, a little Levels call on most images made them turn out pretty well, though my favourite remain the shots during a snowfall and on cloudy days when the snow served as a big softbox providing a softer, more diffuse light.

Above is Zoey.  Below is Pinki again.

As I mentioned elsewhere, but will repeat in case you are new or have forgotten, if you are concerned for the kitties, the cheetahs are more or less used to the weather. Their coats are a little thicker and the cave you see one sitting in front of on this page actually has a heated bottom rock, so it seems, from the looks on the faces of the cheetahs who occupy the area, that it’s rather toasty, especially when the sun is shining so the ambient heat of the sun combines with the warm rock. Since female cheetahs prefer their alone time, only one is exhibited at a time. When a cat is not on exhibit, it has its own run, in which it is allowed to choose indoors or outdoors and I am told that if given the opportunity of staying inside or going outdoors, the cheetahs will usually choose outdoors — even on the bitterly cold days.

As for walking on the stuff: well, you can see Pinki walking rather gingerly across the snow in the top image. That day followed a day of slush then freeze, so the snow was rather crispy and she kept breaking through. I suspect she is looking forward to having her toes caressing grass once again.

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